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Somatic Grief Work for White Anti-Racists

“You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it, and responsible for changing it.” - Grace Lee Boggs

It was a sleepless night… because how the fuck can anyone sleep after the racist domestic terrorism that took place this weekend?

A whte supremacist murdered ten people and wounded three others at the Tops Friendly Markets store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, NY. Eleven of the people who were shot were Black. Grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunties, brothers and sisters, friends and siblings.

More Black bodies have been taken, ripped away from the homeland of family and community at the hands of white supremacy. And yet, white silence is all I can hear.

Last night I kept vigil, and prayed to my most radical and wise ancestors who resisted all forms of supremacy and domination. Please, show me the way... as a white bodied person living in today's climate, how can I live more courageously? How can I show up more boldly? In what ways am I complicit? Where am I shying away in my anti-racism work? May the complicit parts within me be revealed. Illuminate all that is hidden within me.

Keeping vigil felt like an important somatic reorientation for my system as a whte bodied person practicing staying in connection with sensation and my wider relations in the face of such grief. I said each of their names over and over again, offering prayers to each soul now in transition:

Aaron Salter, 55

Ruth Whitfield, 86

Pearly Young, 77

Katherine Massey, 72

Deacon Heyward Patterson, 67

Celestine Chaney, 65

Roberta A. Drury, 32

Margus D. Morrison, 52

Andre Mackneil, 53

Geraldine Talley, 62

Somatic Grief Work for White Anti-Racists

Whte people need to find new ways to be in anti-racist practice together and this is where somatic grief work feels very important to me. The somatic abolitionism work of Resmaa Menakem gets to the heart of this. The practice of slowing down and coming into presence to BE WITH the impact of this moment is an important cultural somatic shift that white bodies need to make together.

Spaciousness is what supports integration, digestion, shifts and breaks in patterns, and leads to new possibilities.

Space to BE in our shared humanity. Space to feel, to reflect and to touch into the sacred heart of prayer, an inner dimension that binds us all. It’s an opportunity to ground into truth, to check-in with values alignment, and to contemplate next steps and/or actions. When we create SPACE to acknowledge and BE WITH impact we actually reweave ourselves back into the web that we feel have felt so disconnected from.

Numbing, dissociation, and distraction are all ways in which we LEARN to cope with the overwhelm of trauma and disconnection. Consumer capitalism primes our nervous system for overwhelm since we are constantly inundated with devastating news. The speed at which information comes through doesn’t have a chance to get metabolized, and there’s no room to actually feel the impact. Instead we intellectualize what we see/hear which makes it all too easy to quickly move on to the next thing, dehumanizing people in the process.

Desensitization is a necessary function of white supremacy.

It severs us from feeling, sensation, intuitive knowing and empathic connection with others who experience life differently. It’s what allows us to be complicit in systems of harm and violence because we actually CANT feel. Do you see how frightening and sad that is?

Colonial capitalism relies upon domination, disconnection, fear, and scarcity to drive the growth of our economy while compromising the true wealth of our relationships and the delicate balance of ecological systems in the process. We are born into and shaped by a system that isn’t designed for our thriving but aims to keep us in the trauma cycle of survival, further disconnecting us from our bodies.

Disconnection keeps us from feeling. Feelings are connected to sensations which arise from our resonant and relational entanglement with our environment providing us with important information about our safety and belonging.
Disconnection keeps us numb. Numbness is a survival response to life threatening situations and indicates overwhelm to the nervous system. Numbness weakens sensitivity and pre-disposes us to dis-ease and co-optation.
Disconnection keeps us from knowing and seeing ourselves clearly. To know ourselves, is to know our relatedness; to know our place and creative purpose in relationship to everything else. 
Disconnection keeps us from knowing and claiming our power. Cut off from our relationships, we become cut off from our ecological intelligence which is the source of our knowing and informs our ability to effectively respond / adapt.
Disconnection keeps us from our responsibilities. As a living relational entanglement, disconnection severs us from the web of  belonging and cuts us off from our sacred duty to uphold nature's reciprocal relations.

We are numb to the pain of the world because the trauma of separation is ongoing and the violence of our culture continues to impact our bodies/lands. That is why having a holistic understanding of wellness and going beyond individualistic notions of healing is necessary.

Entering into somatic grief work can bring up a lot for whte bodied people. Being "with" or even being seen can feel scary and uncomfortable… especially if you can’t sense or perceive feeling at all. This is by no fault of one's own and is actually by design. Under the individualistic scarcity-driven paradigm of colonial capitalism there is great pressure to keep pressing on. Productivity is prized at all costs. There is no time to feel or to properly grieve loss. This is not where value is placed. The emotional / sensing realm has been subjugated and our instinctive muscles severed. Not feeling is a symptom of trauma.

Not only do we live in a death-phobic culture but we haven’t been shown / taught how to properly live! That’s why returning to our roots, reclaiming pre-colonial earth-honoring traditions, and honoring ancestral wisdom is so important. We must learn what it means to live in a good way and in right relationship. This is also why Indigenous wisdom is such a threat to the current paradigm.

Whte people need to deal with their trauma. FULL STOP.

Let’s make something very clear: whte supremacy is traumatizing. For everyone. Whte people too. Ending white supremacy is not about eradicating white people. It’s not even saying that white people are “bad” which is a common misconception that arises from white trauma. This is called white fragility and it’s a symptom of white trauma. If you feel like you’re under attack for being white… it’s your trauma speaking.

What gets triggered in the collective white body in moments such as this is deep shame and guilt which leads to all manner of self-protective strategies like denial and defensiveness. These strategies are used to avoid taking responsibility for collective and individual behaviors/way of being that are harmful and to avoid feelings of discomfort. When healing is underway and trauma is properly metabolized, what results is a secure adult who understands that shame is a helpful emotion that provides us with information about our relational integrity. It points us toward what needs tending, acknowledgment and a change in behavior.

Anti-racism and ending white supremacy is actually an invitation for whte people to STEP UP and IN to hard conversations that bring up discomfort and that bring to the surface deep wounds that we’ve been carrying for generations. It’s collective healing work that we all need to be doing. There is a place for us all. Our healing is absolutely necessary.

Engaging in anti-racism work is actually a healing balm for isolation and is the foundation for creating authentic and supportive community. Such communities are rooted in relational accountability where we actually learn through practice how to tend to the body of community by being in deep relationship with our own bodies as a source of deep wisdom. By no means is it easy. We'll make mistakes and we'll even hurt people... but staying with it and unlearning all of the ways we try to protect ourselves from feeling pain and discomfort is part of growing up as white bodied people.

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Good post, thoughtful, helpful. I like the idea of pop-up somatic vigils.

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