By Erika Fox, shared on facebook June 16.
Shared with permission
Social media is not my platform (flip phone user here) so I have not mastered the art of articulating myself with fewer words. But the words keep rising up and waking me in the middle of the night, calling me back from a decade-long break from writing I was sure was permanent, and this seems a place to share some of them despite their length.
As a trauma therapist, there is so much I could say about this moment in history, about the relationship between trauma and oppression and the intergenerational transmission of trauma. And while I will continue to hold space for the trauma (and resilience and brilliance!) of Black bodies, Indigenous bodies, and bodies of color, those are not my words to share. My deep love compels me to share these words with white bodies – because addressing our unconscious racial conditioning and patterned responses from our unhealed traumas is necessary for the work of racial justice and restoring our humanity.
So, while all are welcome to read, this is an invitation to white people in my life newly embarking on or deepening their work for racial justice:
“For most Americans, white body supremacy has become a part of our bodies. It’s the equivalent of a toxic chemical we ingest on a daily basis. Eventually it changes our brains and the chemistry of our bodies, which is why we need to begin not with guilt or blame, but with our bodies.” -Resmaa Menakem
At this tipping point in history, many white people are awakening to racial injustice for the first time, and white activists and healers are being called to deepen our commitment to racial justice. This is a call to listen, learn, and take action, yes! It is also a call to deep, deep inner work.
“Anti-racism education is critical, but education without the body is not enough…there’s an underlying philosophy of white body supremacy that reaches back through history that has colored all our bodies and psyches. It’s the water we swim in, and the very pervasive nature of this philosophy means that it’s largely unconscious to us. One that, beyond conscious awareness, is passed onto our children and their children as their inheritance.” – Karine Bell
We are being called to examine (and re-examine) how our racial conditioning has shaped us and the institutions in this country. To do this well, we need to develop our resiliency to stay with discomfort and pain that will arise. When white people are faced with the realities of systemic racism and institutionalized violence toward Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies, the pain of this can easily activate our shame. We cannot do racial justice work authentically or sustainably when we are operating from a place of shame. It overwhelms our nervous system and activates all our survival defenses – we will fight back in defensiveness or blame, flee and give up, freeze and get stuck, cry out to be rescued, or collapse in despair. Shame sends us into performative allyship or back into our dissociative denial and avoidance. Shame makes us terrified of making a mistake, being labeled as “bad,” it shuts down vulnerability and empathy, it fosters disconnection from ourselves and from each other, and especially from people of color.
“You will feel like your foundation is crumbling, you will want to grasp onto what you’ve always known, you will crave to run back to the comfort of your privilege, you will feel confused, you will feel attacked and in the midst of it all, you’ll survive. Keep going. There is work to do.” – Rachel Cargle
Shame is also a roadmap that guides us to our unhealed wounds. Our developmental wounding, yes, and also the soul wound of white body supremacy that is buried deep in each of our hearts and bodies. It is a moral injury, the trauma of causing harm through violence or inaction, passed down through generations of white bodies and replicated in every institution in this country, eating us from the outside and from within.
As a trauma therapist and a white person tending my own wounded parts, I know well the intricate defenses our minds and bodies put in place to survive – trauma changes our neurobiology and rewires our nervous systems, projecting the past onto our present to protect us from our deepest pain.
“The heartbeat of racism is denial, and the heartbeat of anti-racism is confession – the recognition that to grow up in this society is to… internalize ideas that are racist.” – Ibram X. Kendi
Research in neuroplasticity has shown us through healing work that engages our bodies, we can change the wiring in our brains, adapt our nervous systems, form new synapses and behavioral patterns, which will change us and, epigenetically, our descendants, breaking cycles of harm. When we slow down and sit with the sensations of discomfort arising, we awaken curiosity about our defensive urges and where they come from. We can be curious about how they show up in our relationships with ourselves and others, how we understand and discuss race, in whether and how we work toward personal and systemic change. We can develop skills to ground and regulate our bodies to stay with discomfort, so that we can face and release our harmful developmental and racial conditioning without being overwhelmed by our “triggers.” The process cannot be rushed, and we must keep coming back to it, compassionately moving through our protective layers, locating, feeling, and transforming the pain, grieving and restoring our empathy, reconnecting with our wholeness again and again. This is sacred work, and it is from this space we access a deep knowing that our collective liberation truly is bound together.
“Healing from white-body supremacy begins with the body — your body. But it does not end there. In order to heal the collective body that is America, we also need social activism that is body centered. We cannot individualize our way out of white-body supremacy. Nor can we merely strategize our way out. We need collective action — action that heals.” – Resmaa Menakem
When we are embodying our racial justice work, we are more able to take in what we are learning about our history, about systems of oppression and our role in them, and move toward meaningful (and sustainable) collective action to dismantle white supremacy and co-create a world free from all forms of oppression. We are freer to hold compassion for ourselves when we inevitably make mistakes, so we can truly listen and be accountable when we cause harm.
“That’s the internal work that has to be done. That’s what we avoid because we have a false belief that if we do something, anything, that it’s going to help. I’m more concerned about pouncing on activity before you understand the impact that it has and to really take a little time to be more choiceful — to be more discerning about how we use our energy and where we use it, so we’re not burning out.” – Ruth King
I am no expert – I am still learning and healing too – this is an ongoing process for all of us and it will be imperfect. My own freeze response has had me stuck in a cycle of editing for days and days – activating fear and shame. Grieving, grounding, connecting with my own antiracist healing communities, and tending to the wounded perfectionist part of me are essential to shifting out of my freeze so I can actually share this with you. This is exactly why this inner work is so critical! I have been learning from so many teachers and healers, particularly Resmaa Menakem’s cultural somatics/somatic abolition work. Many white people are asking where to begin – Resmaa Menakem, Ruth King, and many other Black and POC leaders and healers encourage white people to form compassionate learning and healing communities to unlearn our racial conditioning together and develop new culture – we heal in community, and we need support to hold ourselves and each other accountable to stay in it for the long haul. I am including many resources for this below. I can tell you from experience – this work is challenging and uncomfortable – it is also powerful and transformative. And as Resmaa says, it is our only way forward. I hope you will join me. Our humanity depends on it.
Here are some resources for guidance in practicing embodied anti-racism:
Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture (how white supremacy harms everyone): https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html
Test Your Implicit Bias: https://perception.org/research/implicit-bias/
Scaffolding for the Stages of White Identity Development and Becoming Actively Anti-Racist: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PrAq4iBNb4nVIcTsLcNlW8zjaQXBLkWayL8EaPlh0bc/
Resmaa Menakem’s free e-course on Cultural Somatics and Healing Racial Trauma: https://www.resmaa.com/courses and his book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34146782-my-grandmother-s-hands It is best to work through the practices in the book with others – you can form a group of your own, or join this one: https://www.rootedandembodied.com/somatic-abolitionism-12-month-study
Try one of Resmaa’s body practices: https://onbeing.org/blog/race-and-healing-body-practice/
Interviews with Resmaa: https://medium.com/@kristinmoe3/breaking-the-chain-healing-racial-trauma-in-the-body-af1bffd1d926, https://onbeing.org/programs/resmaa-menakem-notice-the-rage-notice-the-silence/
Interview with Ruth King – Healing Racism from the Inside Out: https://bestselfmedia.com/interview-ruth-king/ and her book Mindful of Race: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39721034-mindful-of-race? 12-month Racial
Affinity Group Development Program: https://ruthking.net/learning-with-ruth/ra-gdp/
Guidance from Ruth King for Forming a Racial Affinity Group to Unlearn Racial Conditioning: https://ruthking.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/RacialAffinityGroupChapter.pdf
Tada Hozumi’s Cultural Somatics Reader + Webinar: https://selfishactivist.com/a-cultural-somatic-reader-on-whiteness-free-webinar/
How Shame can Block Accountability (video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58nAd6gDZKA
Vanissar Tarakali on White Racial Shame: https://vanissarsomatics.com/from-white-racial-shame-to-empathy-for-people-of-color-part-i/, https://vanissarsomatics.com/from-white-racial-shame-to-empathy-for-people-of-color-part-ii/, https://vanissarsomatics.com/signs-and-symptoms-of-white-racial-shame-otherwise-known-as-shame-survival-strategies/
The White Freeze Response & Social Inaction: http://lisanewell.com/blog/part-i-the-white-freeze-response-as-it-relates-to-social-inaction?
Holiday Phillips on Performative Allyship: https://forge.medium.com/performative-allyship-is-deadly-c900645d9f1f
Susan Raffo on Moral Injury: https://www.susanraffo.com/blog/the-extant-of-moral-injury
Ibram X. Kendi on How to Build an Antiracist World: https://www.ted.com/talks/ibram_x_kendi_how_to_build_an_antiracist_world?
Self-Reflective Writing Prompts If You’ve Been Called Out/In: http://leesareneehall.com/expressivewriting-prompts-to-use-if-youve-been-accused-of-whitefragility-spiritualbypass-or-whiteprivilege/#sthash.jQ3EBzzE.dpbs
MIndfulness Meditation for Turning Awareness into Action: https://www.mindful.org/a-guided-meditation-for-turning-awareness-into-action/
Resources for Practicing Self-Compassion during Shame Cycles/Emotional Flashbacks: https://strengthsofallparts.com/flashback-halting
Study Guides on Systemic Racism and White Supremacy: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1H-Vxs6jEUByXylMS2BjGH1kQ7mEuZnHpPSs1Bpaqmw0/, https://www.dismantlingracism.org/, https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/resources.html, https://whiteawake.org/, http://criticalresistance.org/policing-timeline/
Opportunities for Action: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#, https://www.whiteaccomplices.org/, https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2020/06/06/26-ways-to-be-in-the-struggle-beyond-the-streets-june-2020-update/, https://tatianamac.com/posts/beware-of-burnout, https://www.surjmn.org/stories_we_tell_ourselves_the_white?
Donate to: https://thelovelandfoundation.org/loveland-therapy-fund, https://www.colorlines.com/articles/15000-mental-health-recovery-fund-launches-black-trans-people, https://www.nqttcn.com/mentalhealthfund, https://blackmenheal.org/
Mapping Our Role in Social Change Eco-Systems: https://medium.com/@dviyer/mapping-our-social-change-roles-in-times-of-crisis-8bbe71a8ab01