In My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Resmaa Menakem offers a stirring perspective that exposes racial trauma as a major undercurrent of American social systems, as well as the internal systems of the individual body. In his book, Menakem has created a psychology-based tome that examines the effects of racialized trauma on all bodies: “white, black, and dark” (Menekem’s terms). He argues that white supremacy (he uses the term white body supremacy) is a trauma-disease into which one is born, conditioned to participate, and ultimately passes down to the next generation, where it is experienced anew.
Body-based psychology teaches us that the physical bodies we inhabit carries a type of emotion-based knowledge that is stored in our nervous system, where it informs our most instinctual decision-making. The nervous system is built to recognize danger or threat, and to make decisions to preserve our safety. These decisions or reactions are known as a trauma response: fight, flight, or freeze. With a typical, non-life-threatening event the nervous system will identify a threat, respond to said threat, and assist the brain and body in resolving the threat with little or no residual damage. The stress cycle is completed, no lasting imprint is made, and life goes on.
WHAT IF I’M STUCK?
But what happens when a body is constantly recognizing and responding to trauma, and is thus “stuck” in a trauma response?
Racism-based triggers are omnipresent American life, particularly and most severely for Black, Indigenous, People of Color. When a trigger occurs, the body often reacts in ways that cause harm to either the self or to someone else, thus re-enacting the trauma. This happens to all bodies, regardless of color, although the triggering factors look very different. Many examples of how a trauma response manifests and is thus transferred are given throughout the book. The terms “microaggression,” “soul wound,” “marginalization,” “oppression,” and “hazy trauma” serve as helpful guides.
Menakem’s research suggests that trauma changes the expression of one’s DNA. Thus, it can be transferred to offspring through their genes. Unhealed trauma can be passed back and forth between adult partners. It also passes from parent to child, thus perpetuating trauma re-enactments. In this way, racialized trauma is like a contagion that is continually spread throughout families and communities. The trauama infects and re-infects in a vicious, unending cycle.
THE BODY CAN HEAL TRAUMA
Menakem offers hope that racialized trauma can be healed within the body. Education and a cognitive shift in ideology can also help to heal trauam. That hope is provided in the form of instruction throughout the book. The reader will find many body-based and mindful practices that help create awareness and facilitate healing. Menakem rightly points out that healing is by no means easy. He also states that it takes practice and is greatly enhanced by working with a mental health professional.
To learn more about Resmaa Menakem, purchase his published work or continue your anti-racist education, please visit www.resmaa.com. You can also follow Resmaa Menakem’s work via all social media platforms.