Resmaa Menakem on healing black and white trauma; Austin Channing Brown and Brené Brown on the humanist work of anti-racism; Brené Brown on shame and accountability
This week has been a bit of a roller coaster ride--again--as our human story unfolds. Things are opening up a little as we venture into Phase 2 of the COVID response plan. As expected, new case numbers have spiked in various locations, causing adjustments in the plan. I am grateful to be living in BC where Dr. Bonnie Henry has been so pro-active about maintaining our health protocols.
Truthfully, I have enjoyed the "sheltering at home" period, the quietness in the world, the songs of the birds being so audible in the city, the decrease in traffic and road rage, the care people have shown for one another. This pace feels "normal" to me, what life should be like so that we can stay grounded, connected and not lose our minds in stress frenzies. My neighbours have been echoing much the same and are not eager to return to how things were. They've enjoyed the experience of being at home with their families; homeschooling; taking classes online; working from home; having the Canadian governments use taxpayer money to bail Us, the citizens, out (for a change). They, like me, are wanting a revisioned new normal.
Ignited by the anti-racism protests currently occurring all over the world, my desire also extends to wanting to write racism (and every other divisive "ism") out of our new normal. As a person of colour, anti-racism work, in all its complex nuances, has been a part of my life since childhood. It hasn’t been easy or fun. It’s actually been exhausting--but necessary. Without standing up for myself as often as I have, I'm not sure I would still be here, self-value more or less in tact. Along the way, I have met amazing people of colour who have been willing to do the hard work of standing up against relentless systemic behemoths, only to be beaten down time and time again, but relentlessly rise up and do it again; and white people, who have been willing to do the hard work to unlearn racism and become an ally, standing in that interstitial space between the oppressor and the oppressed.
In my walk so far, I have found that we are more alike than different. We are a human family, as Dr. Maya Angelou has said, albeit a dysfunctional one. But as in all dysfunctional families, repair is possible with a lot of hard work. It seems to me that in order to revision a new normal, we’re going to have to dismantle the old one, its inequities and systemic abuses. Its going to take a lot of honest introspection and perspective shifting grounded in a vision of unity, equity and love. For in the end, fear isolates; Love liberates.
1. Resmaa Menakem: Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence
First, a perspective-shifting interview with Resmaa Menakem, trauma specialist and author of My Grand Mother’s Hands. In his examination of why anti-racism work hasn’t taken root, so to speak in the last 20 years of equity movements, he speaks about the trauma of Racism as it lives in both the oppressor and the oppressed. I’d never thought about it this way before but as soon as he said it, I thought, “Of course, it makes sense.”
Trauma, he tells us, is stored in the DNA for generations, it’s role being to inform our survival reactions in the here and now. So a trauma that might have terrified an ancestor becomes recorded in our DNA which, in turn, triggers our own survival mechanisms. In order for us to heal division in our human family, we have to heal that trauma that signals danger, causing us to fight or flight. Resmaa Menakem is working with old wisdom and very new science about our bodies, our nervous systems, and all that we condense into the word “race" to offer us the possibility of change, beginning at a cellular level.
Using a gradual process, we can learn to take our survival reactions off autopilot by observing and noticing the trauma reaction, moving the body itself to unlock stored trauma, and then choosing to replace the trauma reaction with mindful, loving responses (not reactions) that fall in the realm of what Angel Davis calls Radical Self Care. Menakem shows us the possibility of being able to change and let go of our collective traumas.
Having been through trauma recovery counselling myself, I can tell you that this method--slowing down, noticing and then making a choice to respond rather than react on the survival fight or flight autopilot--is crucial to transforming traumatic experience into lived wisdom. It takes time, but once it's done, the effects are far reaching and profound. And without diffusing trauma reactions, we will have trouble hearing each other rationally.
2. Brené Brown with Austin Channing Brown on I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
Brené Brown’s podcast interview with Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, is an exercise of witnessing one way in which hearing each other across the race divide gets done. Austin Channing Brown is a writer, speaker, media producer, thought leader on racial justice in America is invited to share the Brené Brown mike. They have worked together on the issue of race before and have a lovely back-and-forth banter.
Their conversation raised a crucial point for my exhausted Social Justice worker self: The work of un-learning Racism is about being a better human. That’s it, plain and simple, period. It’s not about shaming or blaming or maiming. It is simply about the will and desire to be a better human being and to make sure that everybody, regardless of colour, has the space to experience and just be without fear, dignity and self-worth in tact.
3. Brené Brown on Shame and Accountability
In another podcast about unlearning racism directed mainly at her white audience, Brené Brown continues on, examining the role that Shame plays in accountability, through examples from her own life. One of the main nuggets is that being held accountable or called out on Racism is not the same as being shamed, even though one’s ego’s survival self-defense mechanism might get triggered. As a shame expert, she unpacks this part of the human psyche in a way that is succinct and easy to follow; and she shares her strategies for bringing her thinking brain back on line after a survival trigger has gone off. She's also echoing much of what Resmaa Menakem is saying about defusing trauma reactions.
I share these resources because they put into words some important tools that can help us navigate times of flux and change. For it’s not just racism that is falling apart as a system of control right now. All other "isms" are up for review too: sexism, homophobia, trans-phobia, casteism, cultural phobias, and the list goes on. In short, any difference that has been exploited by power hegemonies to ostracize, divide, conquer and control segments of the human family. My hope is that if we can actually transform some of this division trauma in ourselves, we might actually be in a place to collaboratively revision and reinvent our world from a place of love and not fear, a place where there is enough for everyone, where the dogs no longer have to eat dogs. The new normal.
How’s your week been?
Sherazad Jamal, Free Lion Team