Not just a concept: The pain is in all our bodies
It hurts us all.
In the past few weeks, more and more white people in the US are starting to recognize the 400 year-old truth of institutionalized anti-blackness. The 600 year-old truth of native nation genocide is also beginning to come to light.
It’s always been there, but it’s been easier—as white individuals and culture—to not pay attention. Or just pay a little attention in our heads, because the history is so horrifically painful.
This article is written particularly for those of us on the privileged end of racism. It has deadened and numbed our bodies. We can’t be truly alive if we live in and perpetuate the untruths we’ve been taught in this society.
White supremacy is internalized deep into our bodies.
“White body supremacy doesn’t just harm black people. It damages everyone. White body supremacy benefits white Americans in some ways, it also does great harm to white bodies, hearts, and psyches.”
Reesma Menakem, who specializes in trauma work and body-centered healing, wrote this in one of my most insightful and treasured books, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies. He shows the trauma of white bodies, black bodies, and policing bodies, with exercises to deepen our ability to do the work that needs to be done.
We must begin go to the depth of where white body supremacy is stored, within our collective bones and muscles. Healing the trauma in our bodies helps us think better, react better, and connect better with our own humanity, and the humanity of all of us.
Holding both pain and compassion
When we come back to our own bodies and connect to the earth, that helps us:
- Hold the pain that so many suffer and have suffered.
- Hold the shame of our white ancestors, parents, and selves in our unfairly gained riches.
- Feel our internalized racism, and take wiser actions in the face of so much that needs to be done.
As Menakem says, acknowledging our white supremacy is painful. But it’s the clean and healing pain, instead of the dirty pain of avoidance, blame, and denial, which can create violence and abandonment.
How do you feel fear and hope?
Here is one of the many body-based exercises in Menakem’s book that can help you be more present in these world-changing times:
Take a moment to ground yourself in your own body. Notice the outline of your skin and the slight pressure of the air around it. Experience the firmer pressure of the chair bed or couch beneath you—or the ground or floor beneath your feet.
Can you sense hope in your body? Where? How does your body experience that hope? Is it a release or expansion? A tightening born of eagerness or anticipation?
What specific hopes accompany these sensations? The chance to heal? To be free of the burden of racialized trauma? To live a bigger, deeper life?
Do you experience any fear in your body? If so where? How does it manifest? As tightness? As a painful radiance? As a dead hard spot?
What worries accompany the fear? Are you afraid your life will be different in ways you can’t predict? Are you afraid of facing clean pain? Are you worried you will choose dirty pain instead? Do you feel the raw, wordless fear—and perhaps excitement—that heralds change? What pictures appear in your mind as you experience that fear?
If your body feels both hopeful and afraid, congratulations you’re just where you need to be for what comes next.
Rest into your body… into yourself at night to renew and sleep… during the day to act, soothe, and support.
From your wise body, stay engaged in change. According to Dr. Barbara J. Love’s Liberatory Consciousness, that means increasing awareness, doing analysis (self-education), taking action, and having accountable ally-ship.
We’re making humanity part of this earth and this country. In our bodies, we can hold and create what we want it to become.
For equity and justice,