The Elephant in the Room

A guide to ‘race claiming’ within the dissociative community.

Race is much more than being spiritual, owning a dreamcatcher, the colour of your skin, and enjoying certain kinds of foods.

Some important things to note before we proceed is that while I certainly am not the only person of colour with DID, the points made here are are also influenced by discussions I have had with other poc with OSDDID. While most examples used later in this article mention Black culture, the subject matter is also applicable to other poc. As the writer, I do not believe it appropriate to give examples from a cultural background of which I am not. For those unaware of my presence within the online OSDDID community, I, myself, am mixed race; my mother is a white Australian, and my father is Jamaican.

Important terms referenced throughout this piece are as follows.

  • OSDDID: A catch all acronym often used online for those with Other Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD) or Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID);

  • POC: Person of Colour;

  • Race claiming: Refers to when an alter within a system claims a race or ethnicity that does not match the body’s culture/heritage.

 

“Hi, my name is Courtney, I’m a poc alter in a DID system”

 

For a long time within the online and most likely offline OSDDID community, race claiming, particularly amongst white folks, has been seen as the norm for describing different alters/parts within systems. However, within recent years the language surrounding these alter descriptions has been challenged.

The query proposed by people of colour with or without OSDDID is “How do you define the race of an alter if you do not have the lived experience of said race or culture?”.

OSDDID are disorders formed in childhood due to trauma, therefor rendering it practically impossible for the child to choose the alter formed. Over time the lexicon chosen to describe these alters has the ability to be challenged and changed. From a young age children are given a generalised view of the world they inhabit, including a multitude of stereotypes and biases, each learned from interacting with others and consuming media. Western society has been built to benefit affluent white cisgender heterosexual males, and biases towards minorities are all around us, regardless of whether or not you, as a reader, are aware of them.

When a child splits an alter with a darker skin tone than the body that speaks AAVE (African-American Vernacular English), the alter would be loosely to largely based off of a person or character that is Black; a person that the mind required representation of at the time. As the person ages, this alter will take on many of the biases and observed behaviours of Black people in the world around them. Their identity is formed on the observations of another culture through a white lens. Although their existence may even be linked back to them (a white person with OSDDID) growing up in a Black neighbourhood, an upbringing where they were constantly immersed in the culture, the history and lived experience as a poc will never be there.

Race is much more than being spiritual, owning a dreamcatcher, the colour of your skin, and enjoying certain kinds of foods.

While again, the appearance of an alter inner world cannot be controlled, learning why certain words or actions may be harmful to the poc community is an important step in dismantling racism. Just because you have a mental health disorder does not mean you cannot learn how your actions may be harming a marginalised community, and in turn how to change that. The idea within the OSDDID community that racism is only limited to alters using racist slurs is incorrect as it fails to recognise the intricacies of racist behaviour. It creates categories of ‘good’ white people and ‘bad’ white people by drawing a movable line in the sand as to when racism is okay. Much like in general society, microaggressions against black people i.e, “You’re so well educated for a black person”, are deemed acceptable when compared to violent acts such as police brutality. The former is deemed ‘accidental racism’ which is written off as a non-issue. The reality is that after years of normalising behaviours, by redefining what is and isn’t racial trauma, society continues to perpetuate that poc are inferior to white people. The acceptance of this social hierarchy later fuels more radical acts such as the aforementioned police brutality. While yes, one puts Black folks in immediate danger, in separating the acts into ‘palatable’ and ‘non-palatable’ forms of racism it absolves white people of any responsibility under the guise that, “Well I’m not a white supremacist”, even though they are actively benefiting from a society built on the back of white supremacy; the social hierarchy that continues to this day.

Racism in the OSDDID community is not just limited to alters using racist slurs, it is also allowing poc’s cultural identities be minimised to a white perspective of our ethnicities. The topic of racial trauma is too often discounted within online discourse, with the voices of poc with OSDDID pushed to the side because, “I can’t change my alter being poc, it is because of my trauma disorder”. Childhood trauma somehow reigns supreme to racial trauma; even in these situations where they often intersect, the trauma of marginalised cultures is seen as lesser to that of a white person’s childhood trauma.



Personal rather than objective opinion:

Much like how introjects are not their source, the same should be applicable in these situations in that these alters are not X race. ‘Alter of colour’ is also not an appropriate term, as creating new verbiage to categorise these alters implies that they are their own marginalised community needing a safe space, like people of colour; a situation which again trivialises the lived experiences of actual poc.

 

A big question I have to you whom may disagree with what has been written here, why is it so important for your alters to be allowed to identify as poc rather than simply describing features or interests? From that, do you feel oppressed by poc within the OSDDID community for being hurt that you are using our our cultural terms? If so, I would implore you to check your privilege. While these statements may come off as quite direct and confrontational, it shouldn’t be necessary to tip-toe around the subject and create a piece that is more palatable to you as a white person. The focal point and take away from this needs to be that the language should change. An alter might have a dark skin tone or look similar to Beyoncé, but they are not Black. They might enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine and be quite tanned, but they are not Afghan. Acknowledge that while they may be based off of observed aspects or a person from a certain culture, your interactions with society are as a white person, because you are white.

As children we do not know better, but as teens and adults we have the opportunity to change; it is up to you as to whether you wish to listen and take action to be an ally to poc.