Terese Marie Mailhot on the Personal Cost of Speaking Out Against Racism

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In a compelling personal essay at Pacific Standard, Terese Marie Mailhot reflects on the systemic racism she’s experienced as a human and as a writer. She relates that speaking out against racism can come with a personal cost, but that as a natural-born liberator, she is both willing and prepared to use her voice and her stories to overcome it.

I used to will chaos into my life. It was a gift of sorts. Mother said I was born to Thunder—which is an element of chaos and liberation in my culture. I have always believed that an electric chaos ran through my blood.

“It’s a gift to be born this way,” my mother said, the first time I told her that I had a terrible dream of a large wheel spinning before me. It would not stop. “That is Thunder. This is a gift.”

She saw the world differently, and I by proxy. Her willful nature to name the world as she saw it, not how they wanted us to see it, made me believe in the power of being an indigenous woman.

There was a moment at the river with my mother long ago, when I asked her why we pray. She told me that prayer was not begging, or asking for things, but an expression of gratitude for the way things are. She looked at me, and behind her the river was not rushing. There were so many spirals in the current of the river, and many undertows.

She saw what I was staring at. “That is your power too,” she said. “The undertow can drown people.” I knew she was pointing to the chaos of what we cannot see, and that the undercurrent—the chaos and conflict beneath every surface—is necessary.

Sometimes, all I have is the power that she gave me—and the stories too. There might not be some mythological magic to me as a human being, but there is a reason I am drawn to spirals, to spinning things, to the disruptive nature of story, and to speaking out.

I am Thunder Woman, born to brutalities against me. I am Silence Breaking Woman. When I am told not to speak, by my father or anyone, there is a wielding thing turning inside of me that cannot be contained. It is a calling to be gifted with voice.

As an Indian woman, I feel a responsibility to be hard on the world, but love it as familial. I feel a responsibility to be hard on myself as well. I am both fallible and a gift. Even our perceived heroes are monstrous and imperfect sometimes. How easily Th’owxeya’s story could have been different, had she made her cave a sanctuary of safety for children who needed a home. How different would the world be without mosquitoes or men like my father. In every person there is a myth, waiting. There are many reasons to survive.

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