As a GenX woman, I came of age through the stories of other women, all white women. I would read these books, often late at night, as validation for what I was starting to experience as a young woman in what was still very much a man’s world. I learned it was okay to be angry, to look for ways to be connected to my body, to acknowledge the need for spirituality. I found ways back to myself through their words, but I never was able to touch the core wounding… to acknowledge the impact of being a racial outsider. Where were the stories—ANY stories—sharing meaning from everyday life experiences in Brown skin, in an immigrant body, in a Brown immigrant female body? I wrote Bones of Belonging for all of US, and to centre meaning-making from a non-white vantage point.
I started writing just after the pandemic hit. From the beginning I knew the book would be a series of interlocking stories, with larger anchoring essays interspersed with smaller vignettes, like bones in the human body. What I didn’t start out with was a definition of belonging: and I still don’t have an exact one. One of the many ways I describe it in the book includes, “that who we are belongs to where we are.” This notion that belonging is a sense of alignment, of being in a set of right relationships--to the land, in a marriage, to purpose, in our own bodies—makes the most sense to me.
I consider myself to be someone who thinks about inclusion and belonging far more than the average person as I teach and consult on these ideals for a living, but still I’m no expert. To round out the concepts in the book, I decided to bring in other voices from different sectors, regions, and identities, so I created the Soundwaves of Belonging podcast series. Over the course of a year before this book was released I interviewed thoughts leaders such as Canada Council Chair Jesse Wente, Blue Jays CEO Mark Shapiro, Elder and Reproductive Rights activist Loretta J. Ross and Spiritual teacher Parker Palmer. These interviews deepened my sense that belonging is a state of being informed by internal and external relationships, one which few of us inhabit full time but all of us try to.
At the end of each of the interviews, I concluded by asking the interviewee what belonging meant to them now. Loretta Ross, a Black activist from the Southern States, answered that the land and her people were her anchors. Mark Shapiro described it as creating an environment where we learn to see people for their stories rather than vessels for a job. Judy Rebick defined it as a feeling among her circle of close friends.
One of the interviewees turned the question back to me, “Annahid, how would you define belonging?” To them and to you reading this, I invite you to read Bones of Belonging.
Annahid Dashtgard is CEO of Anima Leadership, a racial justice consulting firm. Over the last two decades she has worked with hundreds of organizations and leaders to create more inclusive workplaces. Her first book, Breaking the Ocean: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion and Reconciliation, met rave reviews. Toronto is her chosen home. Learn more at annahiddashtgard.com.