By Abigail Oduol, a Black planned gift fundraiser in Southern California
This piece is for Black and Indigenous people of color to find themselves in and ask how they define themselves… and for everyone, especially white allies, to more deeply interrogate how they uphold cultural Whiteness in workplaces where we exist.
The following is a poem that I wrote after returning home from a three-year immersive schooling and working experience in Kenya. I began my experience studying transformational urban leadership in a Kibera slum and grappling with my identity. Then I worked as a refugee resettlement caseworker, interviewing refugees as a part of their acceptance into the US Refugee Admissions Program.
Several years later, I came back to this piece while in my current role at an environmental nonprofit and reflected on how my identity – as an American, Black, cisgender, heterosexual woman trying to raise bicultural Kenyan children while working in planned gift fundraising – has since evolved and what it means considering recent experiences.
I reflected on the complexities of how I define myself internally, how others define me, and how other external experiences have affected my self-definition. And how those influences gradually shifted my identity from an individualistic definition into a collectivist perception.
This piece is for Black and Indigenous people of color to find themselves in and ask how they define themselves – the positive, negative, and neutral – and for everyone, especially white allies, to more deeply interrogate how they uphold cultural Whiteness in workplaces where we exist. — Abigail
I know in America.
Knowing only one person out of the entire Black neighborhood went to college, but that the others were restrained by invisible hands and so I am the only in my school, department, program.
Unworthiness for a request for consent to touch hair with dirty hands, to touch my body while dancing.
Knowing even in a fictional universe, I exist only to provide contour and character development.
Knowing that looking “exotic” will never be the same as “beautiful.”
Realizing cameras were not designed to capture your special moments, nude products not for your nudity, your hair, skin, history, and cooking techniques not for standard curriculum.
Knowing that I choose my hairstyle, but do not choose that it is a political rather than personal expression.
Knowing my color stands between me and a relationship, me and an upgraded hotel room, me and the border to the next town.
Knowing the gap between I did it independently and I am an undeserving recipient of charity in the eyes of ever watching others.
Knowing in the dark corners that systems fight me at every turn, and I must violently war against them in unavailing self-sacrifice or die patiently in chains waiting to be released.
Knowing to tattle on the system or support those who do, you are discredited as an angry, paranoid conspiracy theorist.
I know. Our mother is abusive, and I love and hate her equally. I know.
Today I am exhausted, and in no ways tired.
Knowing that regularly is a direct or indirect betrayal of humanity, smiling while minimizing contributions to the space and selectively wielding bureaucracy as a blunt object, claiming plausible deniability.
Knowing that in sharing the struggle to exist, nods in agreement too often point at a soulless other and never their own reflection.
Knowing that exercises in accountability cause a white lash of arguments on good intentions, of hyper vigilance, of police union comradery. Of you, the ungrateful, not enjoying your charitable pennies.
I know. Blackness was created here as a foil for whiteness. I know it is fluid and complex. I know.
It is the ignored pebble that creates the avalanche.
Knowing bellowing songs sung within chains of the past and present, and the blinding streaks of hope across my landscape.
It is the blank space that creates afresh.
Knowing it is pigeons forced to adapt to an invading city now destroy structures with their acidic droppings.
It is my past and my hope, the small window at the top of a prison cell that maintains dreams amid pain, oppression and struggle.
Knowing it is hot glowing coals beneath a fire walker’s bare feet, the embodiment of the moving current.
It is inhabiting a world both not yet and fully realized as we shape it.
Abigail Oduol’s (she/hers) surname is not Irish or Pennsylvania Dutch. It’s Kenyan. She keeps her escape pod in Kenya ready, and checks on it regularly with her young kids and husband. Abigail serves on the CCF Global Council, NACGP D&I committee and with her local PTA. Follow her musings on threads @abby_oduol and longer thoughts on LinkedIn. You can send tips and micro reparations to her Cashapp $AbbyOduol.