“Without a clear and present focus on the body, trauma cannot be addressed.” Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands
Like many others, I have been more deeply engaged in racial justice and anti-racism since the murder of George Floyd in May landed with a sickening thud in my body. I began participating in a monthly program with Resmaa Menakem . On Saturday they featured Liz Koch, a woman familiar to me as a yoga teacher who works with the psoas (core) muscle.
In Chapter 4 of My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa speaks of the cruelty in medieval England prior to the “discovery” of and immigration to North America by white people fleeing centuries of brutality. Being tortured on the rack was excruciating for the victims and was also a spectator sport. Fast forward to North America where some white people treated lynchings like a family picnic. We have stored the terror of violence done directly to our bodies and the traumatic effect of witnessing dehumanizing cruelty.
Unmetabolized historical and patriarchal trauma takes over our bodies and puts us into a flight/fight/freeze response when a white person is challenged to speak up for justice. Before we can effectively challenge white solidarity, we need to grieve and do our own clean-up to be responsible and effective members of society in anti-racist culture. We need to metabolize what was passed down through generations. My own history in North America began with the escape from the Scottish Highlands of my seventh generation great grandparents fleeing the destruction of the clan system by the British.
Liz spoke about how white people are ravenous for connection and Resmaa reflected on his experience of being a target of ravenous white people. In Liz’s recent book, Stalking the Wild Psoas, she speaks about how we are starved and disconnected from the earth and everyone else in it. We feel the isolation of not belonging and we are hungry for actual connection with life. She speaks of allowing our systems to come back alive, thriving in a collaboration with the ever fluctuating process of expression deep within our own core.
“Dehumanization is the process by which we become accepting of violations against human nature. We must never tolerate dehumanization – the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history and makes atrocities like slavery, torture, and human trafficking possible. When we engage in dehumanizing, we diminish our own humanity in the process.” Brené Brown
For me, it becomes ever more urgent that we work on healing our own trauma. White people need to stop “blowing our unresolved trauma through black bodies” (Resmaa). We need to take responsibility for and heal our disconnection from ourselves and each other and stop using people of color as a short-cut to connection. And we must stop dehumanizing each other if we are ever to heal the polarization that is on stark display in the US right now.
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” James Baldwin
These are challenging times. We are afraid. We don’t know what is going to happen. Covid-19 has ruptured our sense of normalcy and we are suffering. Rehumanizing means doing the work of risking vulnerability, feeling our grief, and metabolizing our unfelt terror that has been passed down to us through generations. We can learn how to regulate ourselves and to stay engaged. White people need to build a culture of connection and healing. This is possible.