Motherland

by Jade Crimson Rose Da Costa, York University

I almost killed my mother when I was born. I was born two months too early and I weighed 3.3 pounds. My mom said that she lost five pints of blood when she gave birth to me. For a long time, I told people that she lost half the blood in her body; not that she lost five pints of it, but that she lost half of it. Thinking about it now, it seems impossible that my mom would’ve lost so much blood. I must have made it up or misunderstood her, and then, with time, it just became one of those obscene details that you believe and normalize as a child but then question and rethink as an adult. Could my mother have lost so much blood and lived?

According to Google, the average adult has between nine and twelve pints of blood in their body. So, five pints of blood is about half of the body’s blood supply. This means that I was right: if my mother had really lost the amount of blood that she claims she did, then she lost half the blood in her body. But how did I know that five pints meant half? I was just a child. Not to mention, I was born in Canada in 1991, and I was schooled in the metric system. I don’t measure things in pints – but my 59-year-old mother does. The same is probably true for the doctors and nurses who delivered me. Maybe they gave her the figure, or maybe she made it up. I don’t know. All I know is that, when I was born, my mother traded five pints of blood for 3 pounds of flesh. 

Despite how much blood my mother actually lost, I still see truth in my story. When I told people that my mom had lost half the blood in her body when she gave birth to me, I was expressing the energy of the moment, the energy I felt whenever my mother told me anything about that day: that my birth was a murderous event – a bloody, horrific, violent catastrophe.

This is both a metaphor and a fact. I was born two months too early; there was a lot of blood. I did almost kill my mother. My birth was violent. Yet, at the same time, I was the daughter of a white woman and a Brown man; the first mixed kid in both blood lines, and my brother, the second. My birth was both the birth and the death of the nation – the death of white purity, the birth of multiculturalism; a nation which tells racialized people that it gave up the sanctity of its soil for our benefit, while simultaneously using our blood, sweat, and tears to feed the land.[1] But it doesn’t work the other way around. You can’t use their blood to nurture our soil. 

            You can’t sacrifice white life for Brown flesh.

My mother taught me from a young age that she had sacrificed her body, her blood, for my existence. I was half white, and she, half gone. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years trying to make up for what I had taken from her, working my mind and soul tirelessly to support and protect her and to rebuild what I had supposedly stolen. For every pint of blood that she gave, I gave a quart of tears and sweat back. I gave more because I had less to give.

           Blood is thicker than water.

The truth is that my birth made my mother possible. I was the first real caregiver she ever had. If it wasn’t for me, she would never have had the chance to grow, and to expand past the trauma of her childhood and into the nightmare of mine. I enabled my mom to go from nurturer to nurtured. Through this transformation, she was able to construct a foundation that could house her own being. I made my mother a person. Not a whole person, mind you, but part of one.           

Just as her ancestors had built this country on the evisceration of non-white peoples, so too had my mother rebuilt her life by sacrificing mine. Canada is built on the labour, death, and displacement of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. My mother pacified me with the lie that my existence was premised upon her loss. Canada is built on the lie of white benevolence and the false promise of meritocracy. My mother is white, and so too, is my country.

           My mom said that she lost five pints of blood when she gave birth to me.

           How many pints of my soul have I bled to birth her?

           How many pints of blood do non-white people shed to birth our nation?

           Is it more than five? Is it more than half?

I can’t ask my mom how many pints of blood she actually lost. I don’t talk to her anymore. I don’t talk to my father, either. My father and I stopped talking ten years ago when he refused to go to rehab. My mother and I stopped talking during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still ongoing as I write this. My mother is a white, nationalist, conspiracy theorist. She dropped out of high school when she was sixteen and spent most of her adult life working in a factory. This has left her bitter and without her own identity. I am a queer, gender nonbinary, woman of colour who is getting their PhD in Sociology, and who regularly organizes against injustice. COVID was a moment of critical disjuncture for us. While I spent my time working with other student activists to secure graduate students’ rights and to feed marginalized communities, my mom was telling people that COVID was a hoax designed by the 5G network, that wearing masks will make you sick, and that “immigrants,” by which she meant “Mexicans,” by which she really meant “Latines,” are to blame for the virus. The obvious contradictions between the first and the last point did not occur to her.

While there was a moment when we stopped talking, this moment was preceded by decades of abuse, neglect, and toxicity.

           Something built from death and bloodshed cannot last.

 It came years after the time I told her I thought I was molested as a child, to which she said: “hm, yeah, I can see that”, and then nothing else.

           82% of those under 18 who experience sexual assault are girls.[2]

It came almost a year after I reminded her of this moment, and she promised to see a therapist to make things right. It came only months after she stopped seeing her therapist for no reason at all.

           white guilt [noun]

  1. The feelings of shame white people experience when they recognize the legacy of racism and colonialism in the West but refuse to take meaningful steps to rectify it

It came more than a year after she blocked me on Facebook for calling her posts racist. It came a few years after she told me that my education was worthless because I was a puppet of the Illuminati.

           white rage [noun]

  1. Displaced anger by white people, typically manifested by hostility, resentment, and/or violence towards Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, immigrants, and other oppressed groups.

It came many years after Ben, my abusive-rapist ex, held me down on my bed in my mother’s house and then punched eight holes in my wall, which she promptly plastered over. It came after I tried to kill myself at his house, and my mom picked me up and dropped me off at the house of my “best friend,” Mike, who then sexually assaulted me. It came after a childhood of her letting my father get drunk and scream at me, and only me. It came after years of him calling me a bitch while she casually stood by. It came decades after the few times he beat me in front of her.

67% of Canadians know a woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse. This rate is much higher for Black, Indigenous, and Women of Colour. [3]

It came after years of me giving her emotional support, and her giving me none. It came after the tenth or fiftieth or hundredth time I translated my rage into rational thought and therapeutic rhetoric, cloaking my hurt to validate her pain so that she might hear mine.

           How many pints of my soul have I bled to rebuild my mother?

           It’s more than five, it’s more than half.

It came after years of her hating Brown people, even though she had two Brown kids.

            How much death does whiteness demand?

It came after COVID, right after my mother told my brother that she wasn’t socially distancing, while still visiting my diabetic Nana. It came right after she begged my brother not to wear a mask and told her ex-husband, my estranged father, that I had manipulated my brother into replacing her. It came after she told my father that she had lost me and was fine with it.

            It demands all of it. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has extended the long list of grievances I already felt towards my mom. Not just the political ones, but the emotional ones too. During a global health pandemic, you’re exhausted. You’re afraid of death and sickness and loss while simultaneously grieving those things. The pandemic has also laid bare the inequitable distribution of wealth and resources in our society; it has laid bare the racialized death that (re)built our lands, forever exposing the bones that hold our home together.

If my mother and I didn’t hate each other for our skin colours before the pandemic, we certainly did afterward. She hated me for taking what was hers and defending “immigrants,” and I hated her for hoarding thousands of dollars of groceries while spouting racist rhetoric.

I also didn’t have time to hope and wait for that hate to turn into something else. Instead, I was being the person my mother had inadvertently raised me to be – someone who puts the needs of others before their own. I was giving everything I had every day to support my friends, my family, and my community; I had nothing left for my mother to take. I had nothing left for white people to take. I didn’t have the emotional energy to make myself small or to contort my rage. I didn’t have the mental energy to debate her or the world about the validity of my existence. I didn’t have the energy to play into the fantasy that, someday, she might change; that Canada might change; that someday, my mother would become an actual parent and my country an actual home. So, something inside of me finally snapped, and I was no longer able to carry the burden of loving my mother or my country – the burden of loving whiteness.

Trying to write about the violence of an abusive parent is a lot like trying to write about the violence of an imperialist state – you usually can’t cover everything, and the more you try to, the more unfocused and confounded your narrative gets. However, much like writing about state repression and murder, you still feel the need to include everything; the need to make as clear as possible what your thesis is and why you proclaim it to be true. In both instances, you want to lay out in the clearest terms possible how you were hurt; you want to detail every instance of abuse and neglect so that everyone knows you are right to feel the way you do; that your pain and anger is justified; that your reality is valid.

But you can’t. Trauma doesn’t work like that. The moment you start to write some of the pain down and contend with the countless moments in which an abusive guardian has wronged you – those moments that you forgot or suppressed or normalized – they all come out, and all you are left with is a million little pieces of your own shattered psyche; a mess of unarticulated trauma; a collection of unhinged rage;

           an incomprehensible longing to be loved. 

So, in writing about both my mother and my country, I have come to start and end with one point. This is the point I have always returned to – their whiteness. This is the one unreconcilable fact between us.

There is a world where my father and I are friends; a world where he is sober, and he atones for all the pain that he has caused me; a world where he is a better version of himself. There is also a world where I live in Goa, India, where I know the language and the customs, and I belong. These worlds are impossibilities, childish fantasies, but they exist in an alternative dimension, in a galaxy of “buts” and “ifs”; they are worlds that will never be, but always could.

There is no such world for my mother and I; there is no such world for me and my country. Our mutual disdain is the product of our respective beings, a symptom of our essences colliding and tearing through one another. Brown kids can’t have white homes.

I cut my father out of my life because he got drunk and called me names. I cut my mother out of my life because I couldn’t exist in her presence; because she cared more about her beliefs than she did about my safety; because she only loved me when I acted like a white woman and not a Brown person; because she believes in a world that considers my entire existence an abomination. In essence, I cut my mother out for being my country and for bringing its racism into my home. Like Canada, my mother has always hated me more than she has loved me, only claiming me enough to resent me. As long as I’m not the perfect or the broken “daughter” that either of them can use or fix, as long as I let my rage and hurt and truth take up space, any space, in their home, it’s not worth it for them to have me around, it’s not worth it for them to love me.

I couldn’t free myself from the land, but I could free myself from my mother.

This is one of my father’s drawings. I call my father Jude. Like me, my father is an artist. It’s the one habit I have learned from a parent that is purely restorative. Jude and I don’t talk outside of family events. I got a photo of the drawing from his Facebook. We’re not friends on Facebook, I’ve declined all his requests, but his profile is public. When the editors of the journal asked me if I wanted an art piece to accompany my story on their website, I immediately thought of Jude’s work. I can’t tell you why, exactly, but the idea gave me comfort. Jude and I began talking a little after my mom and I stopped talking. It was mostly over texts and not more than once or twice. But Jude always responds to me. He always follows me on social media and tries to befriend me. He’s never stopped trying to connect with me, even after I shut him out. I was right to shut him out. His insides are too twisted for him to love me in the way I need and deserve, but he does love me. When I stood up to my mom, she retaliated. She deleted me off Facebook and bad mouthed me to my brother and Jude. She took intimate traumas from my past and spun them into character assessments of who I am now. My mom doesn’t love me, she can’t. Even if Jude’s love is toxic, there’s a realness to it, something parental. My brother describes it like this “although Jude is abusive, there’s something there, it’s just damaged, but with mom, it’s like she doesn’t have a soul.” It’s comforting to know that Jude is there, even if I don’t need or want him. It’s comforting to know we are both artists; that we are both Brown; that we are both damaged souls. I think in another era, Jude could have been me. He could have resisted whiteness instead of being consumed by it. I could have also become him. I respect him for his survival. I don’t need him, but I forgive him. I understand how he became who he is, and I’m glad he’s still here.

Acknowledgments

First, I would like to thank the Re:Locations editors, Brittany Myburgh and Shehnoor Khurram, for editing and strengthening my piece. I especially want to thank Shehnoor, who was the second person I shared my story with and who met me with overwhelming support and affirmation. Your unbounded praise for the power of my work gave me the confidence to start writing and share more of my creative writing. Further, your general love as a friend has given me the strength to be the kind of person who can write about my trauma the way I have here. Second, I want to thank my friend Kaitlin Peters for editing the first draft of this piece and for prompting me to develop my feelings about my mother into a metaphor about the racist spirt of Canadian nationhood. It is either ironic or fitting that you were the one who helped me bring this piece to fruition – my last white friend following the onset of COVID-19, you are the exception to my longstanding tradition of connecting with white folx who resemble my mother. You brought mutual care and reciprocity into our relationship and were one of my main supports after I cut my mum out. You were the person I trusted to review this piece, and you made it better. So, thank you; thank you for being literally one of the only white folx I know, who’s shown me care.


[1] There is something to be said here about the fact that I am a non-Black migrant settler on Turtle Island. My father is an Indian refugee from Uganda, my mother’s father is a Hungarian immigrant, and my mother’s mother is a white settler. My father’s family is also from Goa, which was colonialized by Portugal. I am equal parts settler, colonialized, and immigrant.
This land is not mine nor has my blood been equally shed to build it. As a light-skinned Brown person, I am not relegated to the same bare life Black and Indigenous people are – I am also given more institutional privilege than my darker-skinned peers. Lastly, I occupy stolen land that, no matter how complicated, I inherited through settler-colonialism and whiteness. I recognize the discomfort and potential harm in me using land as a metaphor of my existence as a non-Black settler. I also recognize the problem with naming this tension in a footnote, but I feel like there is no other option. These are the words that poured from my fingers in the wake of my mother’s departure. I can’t (won’t?) change them. They are what happened; they are how I transmuted her ugliness to the world and finally began to breathe. If they are imperfect or problematic, then that is what they are. As thoughts, they must be examined, and that’s on me to do, but as creative accounts of my trauma, I feel that they need to remain as is; where else do our shortcomings belong if not in our art? I ask this, hoping that I don’t sound white.

[2] Canadian Women’s Foundation, “The Facts About Sexual Assault and Harassment,” accessed September 10, 2020, https://canadianwomen.org/the-facts/sexual-assault-harassment/.

[3] See note 1 above.

References

Canadian Women’s Foundation. “The Facts About Sexual Assault and Harassment.” Accessed September 10, 2020. https://canadianwomen.org/the-facts/gender-based-violence/.

Author Biography 

Jade Crimson Rose Da Costa is a gender nonbinary queer woman of colour PhD Sociology candidate at York University. Their dissertation explores how to vision a historical memory of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) HIV/AIDS activism in Toronto using a queer-feminist of colour approach. An advocate of embodied knowledge, Jade considers her research to be shaped by her community organizing. Guided by her desire to make academia a little less white, they founded New Sociology: Journal of Critical Praxis, a social justice graduate journal aimed at uplifting queer, trans*, women, and BIPOC graduate students. Outside academia, they cofounded The People’s Pantry, a free grassroots meal program for food insecure families living in or near the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area. She is also a published poet and award-winning teacher’s assistant. For more information, please check out their website at: jadecrimson.com


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