I consider reproductive health and justice to be my life’s work. When I talk about abortion care and the need for abortion care to be included in our conversations and policies about healthcare, many times, I am the only Brown person in the room.
When I started out in politics in 2008, at the tender age of 18, I was thrust into the world of white liberalism and superficial support of people of color and LGBTQ people. I questioned early on where the Native people were and was met with a blank stare and a “We can talk about it later”. The more I volunteered and interned, the more upsetting it became to still be the only Native person or the only person of color in a room.
In April of 2018, I spoke at a breastfeeding conference. I was talking about the need to include breastfeeding into the conversations about reproductive health and justice. I talked about the need to include queer and transgender parents, chest-feeding support, cultural sensitivity, a more comprehensive understanding of how economics play into feeding babies, and the imperative that white women have to spend their social and political capital within their organization to bring about the substantive change families of color need. Many of these credentialed lactation support people had no clue what I was saying. In the end, when participants did their evaluations, because they did not understand or want to understand what I was saying in challenging the way healthcare was delivered, I was called a reverse racist. I was said to have forced my gay agenda onto these participants and that I was shoving gender choice into their faces. Thankfully, I have a friend and breastfeeding mentor, a white woman, who put her values into action by defending me and losing supporters at her professional expense.
Calling out my discomfort, my constant tokenization, and the hurt of feeling like my knowledge and body are disposable have quite literally cost me my livelihood and the ability to feed my family. Many times, if I am not the only Brown person in the room, I am the only Native American person in the room. It can feel isolating. The level of lateral oppression I have experienced is more hurtful coming from other people of color than it does coming from white and white passing people. I must constantly remind myself that it is not a reflection of me or even the person projecting. It is yet another reminder that white supremacy is much more nefarious and entrenched into our daily lives. At the end of the day, how can we not internalize some of it? Those experiences weigh heavier and they leave a longer-lasting impression. These are times I am reminded to not only stand in my truth and have confidence in my knowledge and the intuition my mother, a proud Apache and Chicana woman, raised me with. These experiences also remind me that liberation is not achievable if we do not recognize that our fates are connected to each other.
Being the only Brown, Black, or Native person in a room is dangerous. It hurts families economically and many times, reinforces the very racist notion that women and people of color are not as qualified to fill positions of power ("she was too aggressive and complained too much- we had to let her go.") Look at how far we have come but remember how much farther we must go to reach parity in every aspect of our lives.
Rachael N. Lorenzo is the co-founder of Indigenous Women Rising, a collective that aims to ensure Indigenous Women’s voices are heard and to raise the visibility of Indigenous peoples' rights and Issues.