Arti (one of the organizers of the workshop) has asked me to write about what my name means to me in terms of my antiracism
My last name is a complicated story which began years ago with a series of visionary experiences I had as an adolescent, one of which was a visit from Kali Ma, who appeared as a non dualistic creator/destroyer, and who told me she would be guiding my life. I had no knowledge of her or of Hinduism when this occurred, and it took me years to find out who she was. But I took her seriously.
Later in my twenties I discovered Green Tara and saw her as the embodiment of compassionately acknowledging and entering into the injustice of the world and doing something about it.
Much later, in the middle of a process of healing from child sexual abuse by my father, I decided to shed his name and legally changed my name to what it is now: Vanissar Zondra Tarakali.
That was almost 18 years ago.
My focus at the time was on replacing my father's ownership with a meaningful name that would enable me to join other wounded healers in transforming violence and oppression.
I was unaware of cultural appropriation at the time.
For the last 5 years, as my awareness of and discomfort with cultural appropriation has grown, I have been wanting to change my name again so that it is connected to my genetic culture, but until recently I was in a difficult, protracted green card process, and did not want to give Homeland Security yet another thing--an additional name change--to scrutinize. So at the moment, this remains my legal name.
The first 8 minutes of the radio interview on March 8th of my blog also cover this subject, if you want to listen:
What does anti-racism mean to me?
I began exploring anti-racism 24 years ago, when my beloved biracial niece was only three and someone called her the N-word. I have made many mistakes along the way, but have kept going. In 1998 I began immersing myself in anti racist trainings, preparing myself to heed the advice of Hugh Vasquez in the movie The Color of Fear that white people need to educate each other about racism. I did my (very personal, experiential) dissertation on the psychology of how white people come to make a commitment to anti-racist practice and action, and as part of that began teaching anti-racism workshops for white people in 2000. Those early courses included Buddhist practices, because I was seeking a way to quickly cut through the typical denial, reactivity, defensiveness and guilt/shame responses of myself and other white people to learning about the realities of racism and white supremacy, and I felt Buddhism would be very effective at reducing white folks’ resistance. It proved to be true, but I became increasingly uncomfortable with appropriating Buddhism. When I discovered generative somatics, I was overjoyed, because it contained principles and practices that were equivalent to Buddhist wisdom, but in a secular form.
I continue to teach white people to take responsibility for racism and support the leadership of people of color, and racial justice is still core to me.
I have expanded my work to include healing the trauma of oppression in our bodies and communities. I collaborate with co-facilitators of color on a regular basis to teach healing oppression workshops, and am held in a multiracial community of accountability in the Bay Area, who advise, support and correct me when my white privilege blindspots. I continue to make mistakes, but I plan to keep going.
Feel free to check out my resume, resources and blog writings on my website www.vanissar.com if you want to know more about my ongoing commitment to racial justice and healing oppression educator.
Some have expressed concern that I would be coming to teach people of color about their own cultures:
I am a grateful, respectful student of Tibetan Buddhism, but I do not presume to teach Buddhism or Hinduism.
For this Sustainability workshop, I am bringing tools based in generative somatics, trauma stewardship, trauma healing theories, and decades of experience doing direct service and education in social justice and social service settings.
Thank you for questioning me, I deeply respect and appreciate it.