Rejecting the Lies We Have Been Taught: Destroying and Rebuilding our Worldview

Jennifer Donovan
Sh*t I Wanna Say Before I Die
7 min readJan 30, 2023
Photo Credit: istockphoto, Volodymyr Kyrylyuk. Image Description: A brick wall, with a portion removed and some bricks crumbling along the remaining edge. A blue sky with white, puffy clouds is revealed in the space where the wall has been removed.

Living the Lies

Growing up, every aspect of my life was strictly controlled by my deeply religious mother. What I watched on television; what music I listened to; who I hung out with and where; what movies I saw; what jobs I could and could not have; and ultimately, what I thought and what I felt. Every aspect of my life was controlled.

After living what I had considered a deeply pious life of self-restriction in order to please my mother, I was shocked to learn that she did not trust me. During a phone call about 5-days into my freshman year at college, in the lobby of my dorm building while on a pay phone, I mentioned to my mother that I had met a boy and was thinking about breaking up with my long-term boyfriend from back home. I told my mother everything at this time, not because we had a special bond, but because I was terrified of her, and I never wanted to give her ammunition to start screaming at or belittling me. I was also excited. This was the first time I had ever been away from my small hometown and my parents for any significant time, and the freedom was intoxicating.

My mother grew quiet, and immediately I knew I had said something wrong. My stomach dropped and my heart began to race, as I searched for something to say. “I thought you would be happy,” I said. “You were always telling me I shouldn’t be so serious about one boy. Now I’m telling you I might break up with him, and you’re unhappy?” I was genuinely confused.

I felt my mother’s anger in her the silence until she finally said, “I don’t know… I guess I just don’t trust you.”

On the rare occasion I had previously expressed an honest, personal thought or opinion that differed from my mother’s, she would bring me to my knees by saying, “You’re just so selfish! Always thinking of yourself!” She would spit those words at me like venom through bared teeth, shutting me up and shutting me down immediately and completely. It was like a verbal smack across my face.

I had lived my entire teenage life to that point in complete self-denial. I denied every urge, thought, feeling, and desire I ever had. My mother’s values were my values. My mother’s dreams were my dreams. When people asked me how I was doing, my mother answered, “She’s fine,” and I just stood by and smiled a vacant, compliant smile.

So, when I heard my mother say to me, “I don’t know… I just don’t trust you,” something in my brain short circuited.

“What do you mean, ‘you don’t trust me’?”, I asked through my own bared teeth now.

“I don’t know… I just don’t trust you. That’s all,” she responded in a somewhat snarky and very dismissive way.

I don’t remember the rest of that conversation, but I know it didn’t last much longer. I also remember nearly hyperventilating in the elevator on my way back up to my dorm room.

That was the first and probably most significant crack in the foundation of the pedestal that I had placed my mother on. A few additional incidents would occur over that year. Those incidents, combined with the overwhelm of going from being completely emotionally dependent on my mother to being completely responsible for my own well-being and success at college caused me to fall into a very deep depression. My sophomore year at college, I thought seriously of killing myself. I hated being at school — I couldn’t concentrate, I rarely went to class. For the first semester that year, I rarely got out of bed unless it was to get drunk at a party. But the thought of going home was worse. I felt trapped and thought I had no way out.

Thankfully, I sought therapy at the student health center. My apathy and difficulty coping remained, but my suicidal thoughts ended.

A Shattered Illusion

What I didn’t realize at the time because I was living through it, was that it wasn’t just the foundation of the pedestal I had placed my mother on that had crumbled; it was my entire worldview. Everything I had been taught felt like a lie. My mother had been trying desperately to “protect me from the evils of the world”, but what she really protected me from was reality, so when I entered reality, I had no tools to handle it.

I was adrift. I was unmoored. I didn’t know what to believe about anything. For the first time in my life, I was observing the world through my own eyes and through my own existence. I began learning and thinking and feeling things, and for the first time, no one was there to tell me not to learn or think or feel them. On one hand, it was exciting. On the other, it was terrifying because I had no idea how to process what I was learning, thinking, and feeling, let alone what to do with that knowledge, factual or emotional once I acquired it.


Having my worldview shattered, and then having to rebuild it on my own is the hardest thing to happen to me in my life, and it nearly broke me. It is something I would never want to have to live through again, and yet I am also enormously grateful I did it. It has been what has given me the strength and guidance to become myself — who I want to be. It has been a tremendously difficult journey, and it is ongoing and will be until the day I die. But the love and strength and joy I have gained and continue to gain from this process is invaluable.

Living the Lies

Growing up in America, everything we have been taught about race and racism is a lie. That lie evolves again and again, changing with the times as necessary to sustain itself, but the lie itself remains constant.

The core of that lie is white supremacy. Whiteness was invented in order to also invent Blackness, which was invented to make it easier for white people to enslave Black people. Whiteness was elevated so Blackness could be devalued, so Black people could be owned by white people. Owned.

Every aspect of the society we live in today is tainted by and ensnarled within a culture of white supremacy. But as white people (especially if we are male, don’t have a visible disability, are cisgendered, and heterosexual) we aren’t forced to learn this unless we want to.

A Shattered Illusion

And unfortunately, the way many white people have come to explore this history; to question this foundation — myself included, is when we learn of yet another murder of a Black person by police.

So here we are again, watching or choosing not to watch another video of another violent murder of another Black human at the hands of the police. This time, it was Tyre Nichols in Memphis. Last week, it was Keenan Anderson in Los Angeles. Who will it be next time? Because there will be a next time.


There will be a next time because we, white people, need to reject and destroy our worldview. We need to reject the lies we have been taught “to protect us”. We need to earnestly and finally let the foundation of white supremacy, on which everything we know and don’t know is built, to crumble.

It will not be easy. There will be fear. There will be shame. There will be embarrassment. There will be frustration. There will be anger. But then there will be the possibility of growth, and change, and transformation, and joy, and true community — for ourselves as well as our Black siblings.

There is a very good reason why there is an intentional misinformation campaign against “Critical Race Theory”. There is a reason that Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is banning books and African American Studies, and the entire Republican party, joined by too many liberal Democrat moderates, are ranting against “wokeness”.

They know better than even we do that when we educate ourselves on the true history of this country — when we unlearn the lies we have been taught for centuries. Lies we continue to tell ourselves and each other in order to maintain the status quo. Lies that not only keep killing Black people, but which perpetuate all forms of inequity. When we unlearn those lies it proves that everything they say and do is a lie meant to keep the foundation of white supremacy intact — to keep us divided and disempowered, and to empower and enrich themselves.

I may have rebuilt my own personal worldview thirty-plus years ago, but I have only just begun to rebuild my worldview on race in America. I invite all of you to come on this journey with me.

There are so many voices — current and past to listen to and learn from who have already imagined and begun working to build a more beautiful, equitable, and joyful world. It is time for us to respectfully join them.

This isn’t their fight. This is our fight. We, white people, are the holders of the legacy of white supremacy’s construction, its greatest beneficiaries, and the key to its destruction.

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Many of these thoughts have been swirling in my brain for years, but I was able to finally put them down in writing because I was inspired by this essay from Sherrilyn Ifill, who is just one of the many voices I turn to for guidance and education and inspiration. I encourage you to read her essay, and follow her on Substack and Twitter.