But I Don’t Have a Culture…

…so why can’t I borrow yours? Yours is so cool. I’m so fascinated. I’ll give it back. I promise.

Half-awake this morning I had a dream that I was speaking to a large group of women of various ages, sizes and colors. I talked about culture, identity and history. I had a U.S. History textbook as a prop. I talked in fragments. None of it was cohesive but it was exactly what I needed to say. Since I didn’t completely understand it, I thought I’d share it with you here.

I said that I was curious about why some people take spiritual traditions and symbols from other cultures. Culture and spirituality are strongly connected. Many white people feel they have no culture, so they are fascinated by indigenous culture and want to “incorporate” it into their life. Yet African-American, Asian-American and Native culture has been systematically attacked, disabled and erased. So “borrowing” cultural spiritual traditions is never without consequence.

My Maternal Great-Great-Grandparents

I am a first-generation German-American immigrant. I can trace my ancestors on my father’s side back three generations. I do not know the names of my paternal great-grandparents or where they came from. My mother’s people come from the Lowlands in Missouri. They can trace their line back to the American colonies, and before that, Scotland and England.

This United States history book has pictures of people who look like me. But it does not tell the whole story, or the true story, even though it pretends to.

At times I have been jealous of my Native and African-American friends because they have ancestors to talk to, a culture of stories and proverbs, symbols and prayers. Much has been lost and destroyed, but the connection is still there. This moment of envy is when I begin to reach towards tokens, toward taking/owning/possessing.

I believed I didn’t have any ancestors. Then I said the word Nazi and they showed up. They do not want me to use that word. Then I said the words poor white trash and they showed up. They do not like those words.

When giving a lecture, one ought to be organized and systematic. Organization is something the system depends on. “Alles in Ordnung” is a common saying among my people.

My people have often been afraid of chaos. We believe that organization keeps us safe. Organization also makes us superior.

The system that wrote and approved and published and distributed this history book organizes people easily. On the one hand are those who work hard. On the other hand are those who are lazy. Those who are good. Those who are bad. Those who are honorable. Those who are devious. Those who are white. Those who are not white produit equivalent au viagra.

This is why my lecture is disorganized. Because I am trying to reach for a different way of being in the world that is not organized. I am trying to speak from my belly.

My envy of those with ancestors makes me uneasy. I know that I have ancestors and a cultural identity and a history. My history is not a good one.

Among my ancestors are oppressors, murderers and thieves. Many of my ancestors are harsh and indifferent, selfish and cowardly. Some days I think that if I could disown them, I would, but I can’t. So I envy others their suffering. There is an idea among my people that suffering is somehow noble. It is a very bad idea.

I stop the lecture and I look at everyone. Somehow we have to find a way outside this organization, I think. Somehow we have to talk to each other.

Please say your name, I tell those listening to me. No one says anything. They are at a lecture, after all. I have to repeat it and finally people start talking. Everyone says their name. I can feel everyone start to show up in the room.

Now please say your grandmother’s name, I say, and this time the names come quicker. I say “Elizabeth” and “Phoebe.” I can feel everyone’s grandmothers start to show up in the room. It is starting to get crowded.

Now please say your great-grandmother’s name if you know it. I say “Charlotte” and “Mabel.” I don’t know if Charlotte is the right name, but I *think* it is, so I say it anyway. Now the room is getting very noisy, with all these ancestors talking to one another.

I am supposed to be giving a lecture. I do not want to freak anyone out with my woo-woo stuff because I can see and hear these ancestors. But we are onto something, I think, we can’t stop now. So I say If anyone has a message from her grandmother or great-grandmother, can she please stand up and share it. After a person shares we will answer with “We hear you.” I sit down.

It takes a little bit, but the people start talking. One woman says she is very tired and her whole body hurts all over. We hear you. Another says we ought to be ashamed for ignoring our ancestors. We need to listen up! We hear you. Another says she is sorry and starts to cry. We hear you. Someone else says she thinks this is a stupid exercise and wasn’t this supposed to be a lecture? We hear you.

The talking goes on and on, and we go over our allotted time, and I am glad. I wish that this wasn’t a dream I was having but a real-life chance where I could hear everyone’s grandmothers and great-grandmothers talk.

Eventually we are done talking, and we have a moment of silence. Then I ask everyone to hold hands in a circle and even though it is not usually done, we do that. Some people have left early and some people are confused or sad or smiling. I say a blessing in the language of my people which ends with “Go in peace.”

Part of me is wondering what just happened, because something DID happen, but it wasn’t planned and fairly unorganized, so I am not sure what it was. But it seems important, so I remembered this dream and I am writing it down here for you now.


  1. Thank you so much for this dream. This dream is a great gift.

    • I hope it is a gift. Part of me thinks that if the grandmothers were to show up, mine would utter some racist remarks that would make me hide under my chair. I do think that our lack of relationship and being present to one another is part of the problem, but I’m still wondering how we can be present in a way that doesn’t re-enact/repeat oppression.

  2. I love this dream. And I can totally relate to your first quote “I don’t have a culture, why can’t I borrow yours?” Without a circle like in your dream, do you have advice for understanding what a person’s culture is, who my people are?

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