Healing Racialized Trauma Begins With Your Body
The healing of your body, mind, and soul
Posted November 17, 2020 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
This blog is about the healing of your body, mind, and soul—and the healing of our country and our world.
It's about the healing of a form of trauma that haunts hundreds of millions of Americans, and many millions more in other nations. This trauma has lived in our bodies for at least fifteen generations.
If you're an American, this trauma was likely in your father's gene expression and in your mother's womb as you developed inside her. It was in the systems and structures of the world you were born into. It probably circulates in your body today.
You didn't ask for this trauma. You didn't deserve it. And you didn't create it. But you may be doing things to keep it locked inside your body—and you may be passing it on to others.
This trauma goes by multiple names—racialized trauma, the trauma virus, and, most commonly, white-body supremacy. It is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods we eat, the systems and structures that govern us, the institutions that support (and sometimes hobble) us, and the social contracts under which we live. Most of all, though, it lives in our bodies—bodies of all skin tones— weathering us, depleting us, and eroding our health and happiness.
White-body supremacy (or WBS) is built around a single simple falsehood: that the white body is the supreme standard against which all other bodies are measured and judged, both structurally and philosophically.
The race question in this country (and much of the world) is actually a species question. Are nonwhite people humans, or lesser primates? According to WBS, every nonwhite body—every body of culture (the term I prefer to use)—is considered less than fully human.
The urge to otherize—to divide human beings into separate groups of us vs. them, with us as worthy and spotless, and them as unworthy and dirty—is as ancient as humanity. But the racialized trauma we live with today was invented by a group of wealthy, powerful white land owners in Virginia in the 17th century. The sole purpose of WBS was to enable that small clique to enhance their wealth and power.
Our modern concepts of race and speciesness are not the product of hatred, but of greed and self-interest. Nevertheless, many generations of trauma, hatred, and violence have been its results—and its legacy.
Trauma lives not in our brains or emotions, but in our bodies. This means that healing from racialized trauma needs to begin in our bodies. Each new post to this blog will offer at least one body-centered healing activity that you can practice any time—including right away. Each will also provide some inspiring, practical, and often surprising insights into a different aspect of Somatic Abolitionism.
Somatic simply means body-centered. Abolitionism was the widespread (and also widely opposed) movement to end enslavement in America during the 19th century. Today, Somatic Abolitionism is an individual and communal effort to free our bodies—and our country—from their long enslavement to racialized trauma.
Somatic Abolitionism isn't a club that you can join. It's a living, embodied, ongoing effort that requires endurance and stamina. These can be built, day by day, through the repetition of antiracist practices.
Each new post will introduce you to another one or two of these practices. Repeating these practices will temper and condition your body, your mind, and your soul. They will build your presence and discernment, and lead to mindful action.
As you will experience for yourself, Somatic Abolitionism begins in your body and ripples out first to other bodies, then to our collective body. As you will also discover, Somatic Abolitionism is an emergent process—and a form of growing up.
I'm a therapist and healer by profession who specializes in cultural somatics and the healing of trauma. I'm also a trainer, a speaker and presenter, a cultural trauma navigator, and the author of My Grandmother's Hands and other books. I help people, communities, and organizations find strength in healing that is holistic and resilient. In my work—and in this blog—I make the invisible visible. I help people rise through suffering’s edge.
Healing involves capacity and choices. Not everyone can heal according to the same timeline—or, in some cases, any prescribed timeline. While everyone has the capacity to heal, for some people healing may not be safe at this particular moment, and they must wait for their circumstances to change.
Other people simply refuse to heal. If you want racialized trauma to continue to weather your body, soul, and mind, then this blog is not for you. If you believe, as many Americans of all skin tones do, that powerful white men ought to control our world, then this blog is not for you. If, as you read this paragraph, you wish that harm will come to me for writing it, this blog is not for you.
Everyone else, welcome. Your healing can begin right now with the body-centered practice below.
In the Mirror
Pick up your watch, your phone, or a timer. Bring it into your bathroom, or some other private indoor space with a large mirror, and shut the door behind you.
Take off all your clothes, including your underwear and your socks or stockings. Step in front of the mirror.
Look at yourself in the mirror for exactly one minute.
Don't critique or evaluate what you see. Just look.
Notice what you experience in your body. What quakes? What opens? What constricts? What settles? What moves—and where and how? What vibrations and urges do your experience in your body?
Thoughts, images, and judgment may arise, too, but don't follow them. Keep returning your attention to your body.
If you have to look away before 60 seconds pass, notice that. If you can, look back in the mirror before the minute ends.
After one minute, put on your clothes and leave the room.
As soon as you can afterward, get out paper and a pen and write down what you experienced in your body, including any:
- physical sensations
- meanings or explanations
- urges or impulses
- movement or actions
Do this once a day, every day, for the next three weeks.
Continue repeating this activity until you've done it for 21 days. If you realize that you've missed a day (or more), that's all right. Just repeat the practice a total of 21 times.
At the end of these 21 reps, compare what your body experienced on day one with what it experienced on day 21.