How Coronavirus Saved My Life Podcast picture of Christine's Genealogy book
Personal, Podcast, Racism, Mental Health, Coronavirus

How Embracing the Ugly Side of Your Family’s History is Healing

Why It’s Important to Yourself and the World

By Christine Zethraus, PMHNP/Podcaster

Part One:

A year ago today, March 01, 2021, my Father died. The Father who exposed me to violence, hatred, racism, chaos, distorted boundaries, and my main example of a Man, died year ago today.

Prior to his death, I had made amends with him, began to unwind his conditioning, and began to see him from a different perspective. I was able to ask him questions from a purely inquisitive state, not from a emotionally wounded child one.

After his death, I found our family’s genealogy book in a box of his. The genealogy book starts in the 1800s. I did not recognize any of the names nor had heard of any of my ancestors listed. I was surprised to discover we came from Louisiana, Alabama, Virginia, and South Carolina.

As I skimmed through this genealogy book, I became horrified. I found an itemized inventory and appraisement of my family’s property such as farm equipment, combs, farm animals, dishes, wagons, etc. Then last on the property lists were the enslaved people my family owned. I placed it back in the box for a year. Until now.

How Coronavirus Saved My Life Podcast picture of Christine's Genealogy book
Embracing the Ugly Side of your Family‘s Genealogy Book

I decided to read my family’s genealogy book again, this time with an open inquisitive mind. This was extremely difficult as one of the enslaved children my ancestors owned had the same name as my daughter for the price of $200. I was horrified again.

Until someone gave me a different perspective.

I am so fortunate to have people in my life who create a safe space for me to ask uncomfortable questions and allow me to discuss topics which may be uncomfortable for them. During a phone call with my close friend, who is an African-American male from the East Coast, I expressed my horror, shock, and disgust about my family’s genealogy book listing the enslaved people they owned. I expressed the need to write about my feelings as a therapeutic release. I was highly emotional and ready to write a blog full of upsetting expression.

My sweet friend’s response to my highly charged emotions and my desire to write an emotional piece on my family owning enslaved people was almost just as shocking as my family’s genealogy book.

His response was….

“Embrace it”

Excuse me? Embrace the fact my family owned wives, fathers, children, mothers, daughter, sons all while calling the women wenches? Excuse me! Embrace it? No! Never was my immediate response.

A picture of page from genealogy book listing price of enslaved people my family owned
One of the lists of enslaved people my family owned

However, I calmed down and listened to my trusted friend. A friend who grew up in tough places for a black man on the East Coast where he had to assimilate and codeswitch depending on the environment. A man who is now a leader in educating young adults in the Diversity and Inclusion World. I knew if HE was telling me to embrace the ugly side of my family’s history then this a powerful moment where I can use my voice to help others do the same.

But I didn’t just change my mind instantly. I needed to really figure out what the word “Embrace” meant to me and how choosing this way of looking at my family enslaving people did not include agreeing with it.


Check Out How Coronavirus Saved My Life Podcast–episode 17: the assumption
black history, Personal, Podcast, Racism, Mental Health, Coronavirus, Society

How Coronavirus Saved My Life Podcast: episode 20

The conditioning (Society’s Conditioned View of the Black Man Experience)

Sneak Peak into my conversation with Podcaster Willie Porter from The Thing About Us Podcast

My Conversation with Willie Porter about his personal experience
My father and I at a company picnic.
black history, Personal, Podcast, Racism, Mental Health, Coronavirus, racism, Society

My Racist Father, How his Racism Affected me….

How Hearing my Father Say the N-Word Frequently Affected Me

Growing up with a racist father was exhausting. I have many memories of us riding around in his car. He would scream the N-word to other drivers he felt were driving stupidly. He wouldn’t just say the N-word. The word “stupid” or “dumb” always came before. Hearing “Stupid N***er” growing up was confusing, terrifying, and strange. He never explained how these people were “stupid” or what the N-word meant. My young body told me all I needed to know. My body would become tense and nauseated. My body still tenses when I recall these memories.

My first memory of my father was of him threatening to shoot my Mother. He was pacing the living room, on drugs, and full of hate. I remember being in freeze mode as my Mother and Step-Father were knocking on the windows calling my name outside. This was on Thanksgiving.

My first memory of Thanksgiving was violence.

How ironic.

Because of his racism, I have always been drawn to other cultures and races. Especially the African American culture and community. I have always been a seeker asking many questions– particularly when it comes to injustice. I think on some level I was trying to find the evidence of my racist Father’s misguided hatred. There was none. What I did find were loving communities, big families, good food, and the BEST churches.

Christine as a teenager and her racist father at a work party
Me (age 15 or 16) and my father

I was 15 the first time I went to a Black Church. The JOY was infectious. I remember wondering why everyone was so HAPPY. I had never seen happiness on that level in my life. My body had a different response this time. A response of pure LOVE which I had never felt. A response I am forever grateful for.

The African American Community showed me what LOVE is. More importantly, what LOVE feels like. It felt like a SAFE warm blanket surrounding me.

Towards the end of my father’s life he began to change his mind. My last video of him is being dumbfounded our family once owed slaves. I couldn’t believe what he was saying so I had to record it. I am so glad I did because he was not hopeless. He was not born racist. He was conditioned to be racist by my racist Grandmother. She was conditioned as well.

My father left me one MORE surprise after his death. Most of the people he hired to handle his affairs before he died were African American. He hired those “stupid” people to handle his most important documents.

How ironic.

Confederate soldiers grave marker outside my racist grandmother's cemetery
Personal, Podcast, Racism, Mental Health, Coronavirus, podcast, racism, Society

My Racist Grandmother…

How her Hatred and Racism Affected me

Yesterday, I felt my dead racist Grandmother was summoning me to visit her grave.

One of those gut following kind of things. I had never visited her grave all these years she’s been dead. She is buried not far from my house in a grave next to my Uncle.

When I was a kid she would tell me things like I was not allowed to swim with black people because it was “like bathing with them”. She viewed black Americans as animals.

She was horrible to everyone in general.

Her racism, along with other family members, is most likely the reason I have always been drawn to non-white cultures and ethnicities.

My Grandmother was physically beautiful. Classic 1950s movie star look with perfectly curled hair from rollers. Skin always shiny. Obsessed with her weight. She had a great sense of fashion. In fact, she owned a popular dress shop back in the day.

There was little beauty on the inside. Masculine and tough to the core.

During my 20 min drive I kept wondering why she wanted to be buried in this particular cemetery. And here it was. My answer.

Confederate grave marker
Confederate Grave Maker

She wanted to be buried with her hatred

She had so much hatred in her racist heart.

When she died years ago, she almost died alone with no family until I decided, with help of my friend, to be there with her. She died within minutes of me arriving.

Visiting her cemetery and seeing this marker caused many emotions to come flooding back. Emotions buried so deeply of her abuse to myself and others.

I am grateful I followed my gut. Why? Because I released all that buried anger, hurt, and confusion. I have been storing and repressing those emotions deep in my body and soul.

Now I can move on. Now I can help myself and others heal.

I am so happy to have so many beautiful people in my life with huge hearts.

It’s a reflection of you and a reflection of me.