The Traumatic Roots of White Body Supremacy and Racism in America – Resmaa Menakem – HPP 65
The oppression of people of color is a thread that runs deep through our society. It is embedded in many of our institutions, in the structures that govern our country, and unconsciously in our every day actions. Many believe that trauma passed down through generations is at the root of many of these problems.
In today’s episode, we are honored to have Resmaa Menakem on the show who is a deeply respected healer, author and a trauma specialist. Join us as we delve deep into conversation around white body supremacy; how it underlies many issues surrounding racism, and what we can do to start down the path of living in an anti-racist society.
Racism in America Today – 03:17
“And so for me, the way that I see the current race kind of situation is the way that I’ve always seen. And that is that the race question in this country really is not a race question. The race question in this country and in this world is actually a species question. It has always been a species question”
Developing Self-Knowledge And Ways To Take Action – 07:46
“And so for me, it’s got to start with people beginning to, what I believe is in triads, beginning to practice some of these pieces with each other, beginning to create a cultural container so the actual charge of race can be dealt with not just having the DI workshop, not just getting the IDI, not just getting those types of comforting things done without building anything”
Impacts of Intergenerational Trauma And What We Need To Do About It – 10:53
“That’s the piece. That’s why white people trying to fix black folks and trying to fix indigenous people and trying to do all that. It’ll never work. Because if white folks don’t begin to develop culture around that stuff, they’ll keep blowing it through my body. They’ll keep blowing through indigenous bodies”
The Differences And Overlap Between Cognitive, Emotional And Body-Based Reactions – 19:32
“So they say I’m feeling, I’m feeling this, or I’m feeling that. And that’s actually not getting to what the experience is. And so I would argue with you that this is not just housed in implicit. I would argue with you that it is explicit. Because there is no context for how to deal with the explicit. You just don’t address it because your bodies are standard”
Understanding White Body Supremacy And A Root Of Racism – 28:10
“So you keep giving up on yourself, right? In order to keep white people calm because when white people get nervous black people die. When white people get nervous, indigenous people lose their land, when white people get nervous people get inflamed, towns get burned because I suppose a 12 year old black kid named Emmett Till whistled at a white girl. You know, people get hung from bridges when that type of stuff happens”
The Devastating Effects Of Racialized Trauma – 34:39
“Racialized trauma, in a person over time, can look like personality. Racialized trauma in a family over time can look like family traits. Racialized trauma, in people over time can look like culture. And so the weathering effects of my great, great, great grandmother being raped over and over and over and over again. And then not only just her, but then the other women on that plantation, and then the men also engaging in that activity. Think about that. Think about somebody being raped. That’s one thing, but somebody being raped and it’s sanctioned”
Providing A Context For Healing – 39:46
“This is the problem with white people. When white people start saying, well, we need to have a conversation on race, and then they wonder why they can’t get people to come back. Because you haven’t built a container that can hold that charge”
How To Address Racism Amongst Law Enforcement – 46:55
“I want indigenous bodies and brown bodies or black bodies to stop being murdered and the murder being sanctioned. This qualified immunity stuff is a license to kill black and brown bodies. You have people that are saying, you know, I didn’t know that the police were doing this and all this type of stuff. And the thing that pops into my head is like, there has never been a time in America where the police were not sanctioned to kill black bodies”
Resmaa Menakem, Keith Kurlander, Dr. Will Van Derveer
Resmaa Menakem 00:00
For me, this whole thing about race and are we getting better and where’s the hope, it’s just performative type stuff. White people in particular not at a place yet to where they’re really interested in developing community and culture around living embodied anti-racist practices and culture built in. So that’s where I’m at.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 00:23
Thank you for joining us for The Higher Practice Podcast. I’m Dr. Will Van Derveer with co-host Keith Kulander and this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. Today’s episode with our guest Resmaa Menakem was a deep exploration into his work around racialized trauma. We explored the impacts of intergenerational trauma on the bodies of people of color, the bodies of white people, the bodies of law enforcement officers, and this tender topic can raise all kinds of emotional responses. And it’s really because this topic raises responses for all of us that we need to feel and be present and heal together. We are so deeply grateful for the potent healing map that Resmaa Menakem brings. Resmaa Menakem has served as director of counseling services for the Tubman family Alliance as behavioral health director for the African American Family Services in Minneapolis, as a domestic violence counselor for Wilder foundation, as a certified military and family life consultant for the US Armed Forces, as a trauma consultant for the Minneapolis Public Schools and as a cultural cymatics consultant for the Minneapolis police department. As a community care counselor he managed the wellness and counseling services for civilians on 53 US military bases in Afghanistan. Rasmus studied and trained Peter Levine’s somatic experiencing trauma Institute, as well as with Dr. David Schnarch, author of the best-selling book, passionate marriage. He currently teaches workshops on cultural semantics for audiences of African Americans, European Americans and police officers. He is also a therapist in private practice. And I will add that he has a fabulous book that we talked about quite a bit on this episode called my grandmother’s hands, which I would put on the list as a must read.
Keith Kurlander 02:34
Hi, Resmaa Welcome to the show.
Resmaa Menakem 02:35
Thank you, man. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Keith Kurlander 02:38
Yeah, it’s great to have you. And I want to start by saying that I just recently read your book preparing for this interview. I’ve been hearing about your work more through my wife, which I just mentioned to you. I read your book and I just want to start by sending sincere gratitude for your willingness and courage to put a really different message into this space about racism and trauma and the courage of having a voice out there. It’s a big deal. And this space and also so important for mental health providers to have the lens you’re providing. So, I just want to start there by thanking you.
Resmaa Menakem 03:16
I appreciate that man.
Keith Kurlander 03:17
So, I thought a good kickoff point Resmaa is to just talk about kind of current affairs, your current state of things in America specifically, and you wrote this book published back in 2017. And a lot has happened since then, in terms of just police brutality, and against black Americans and the national outrage that’s really showing up on the streets right now. And so, there was something specific you said in the book, which I kind of want to ask you about, which is you said something about, we’re either gonna grow together or tear each other apart. And I’m just curious about how you’re framing the problem of racism today in this country and how you’re just kind of understanding where we’re at in the process collectively. We just had another black American, Jacob Blake, shot in the back seven times. Such a horrible thing to witness. So just wondering how you’re framing everything right now?
Resmaa Menakem 04:11
Yeah, well, first off, the reality is, you know how when people, when you talk to somebody, they’ll ask you How you doing, but they really don’t care about how you’re doing. They just want to get on to whatever it is they want to talk about. And lately, what I’ve been doing is asking people, how are they sleeping? Asking people, how are they eating, asking people how are they processing the grief that’s showing up? And I’m asking people that because I’m making the assumption that especially if you’re in a black body or a brown body or your body of culture, or an indigenous body that you are experiencing, not just an individual grief but you’re also experiencing a communal grief. What happened to you and your people did not happen to you individually. It happened to your people for a sustained amount of time. And so for me, the way that I see the current race kind of situation is the way that I’ve always seen. And that is that the race question in this country really is not a race question. The race question in this country and in this world is actually a species question. It has always been a species question. The term race was used, the operationalization of race was species, so is Resmaa human? Is Resmaa a monkey? Is he primate? Those ideas and those philosophies have been woven into the soil and into every structure of America. And the white body was deemed and supported as being the standard of humaneness. And everything else is deviant from that. And so for me, if you don’t understand that all of these kinds of performative things that you see people doing will confuse you. You’ll think that that’s real progress, you will think there’s something to be gained by seeing that as progress and I don’t, because I look at this in a way that I look at it a long arc. And that long arc, the reality is that the white body is still the standard. White comforts Trump’s black liberation. Those pieces are woven through. And so, when something like brother Blake again shot seven times, and then you have white people say, Oh, my God, I didn’t know. And without realizing that when you say that to a person of culture, when you say that, the reaction that you think you should be getting is not the reaction that happens in an embodied sense, because what happens in an embodied sense when you say, Man, I didn’t know. Wow, this is shocking. We got to do something. bodies of culture are going yeah; I can’t trust you. This stuff has been going on for 500 or 600 years, and you’re just now getting it. And so now we’re supposed to be enamored with the fact that you just are getting some taste of it. I don’t believe that you’ve been tempered and conditioned in a way that will allow you to sustain this for the rest of your life. I think you’re shocked right now. But sustaining what it would take to make sure to do shifts is a lifelong commitment, not only your life, but your children’s, children’s, children’s life. And I don’t believe you have that. And so, for me, this whole thing about race, and are we getting better, and where’s the hope? And all of that different type of stuff, it’s just performative type stuff. We’re not at a place and white people in particular and not at a place yet to where they’re really interested in developing community and culture around living embodied anti-racist practices and culture building. And so that’s where I’m at with.
Keith Kurlander 07:46
Yeah, thanks Resmaa. What I’m taking away at least from some of your work, I just recently coming on to your work, it seems like you’re suggesting if I got this right, like we really need to deal with the body’s memory in order to get it into a consistent, more explicit narrative in white bodies, we have to get into the body’s memory for that transition that you’re saying isn’t happening yet.
Resmaa Menakem 08:12
Exactly right, exactly right. This is about a living, embodied philosophy, understanding mooring. So, when white people say that they’re upset about what’s going on, I have no doubt that there is an emotional piece to that. But that’s not what it’s going to take to shift this thing. Just your emotional reaction to this is not curative. We’re talking about how you get this in your body. And the only way for me that I think white folks, in particular, have to get this in their bodies is that they have to be willing to do the embodied work, like you said, you read my book. What I tell people is that you cannot read that book and get anything out of it if you’re not doing the practices. The practices in that book is the thing. You have to do the practices and then do those practices with other white bodies. You can’t just do white folks love being individuals. The individual ethos is killing white folks. But people are so enamored around a bootstrap, I did this by myself, I came to the frontier by myself I did, right, all of those kinds of mythological stories that we tell ourselves get in the way of this embodiment stuff that I’m talking about. And so for me, it’s got to start with people beginning to, what I believe is in triads, beginning to practice some of these pieces with each other, beginning to create a cultural container so the actual charge of race can be dealt with not just having the DI workshop, not just getting the IDI, not just getting those types of comforting things done without building anything. I really believe that if we are going to deal with race as a species question it’s going to have to be intimate. White folks are going to have to get intimate around race. They’re not intimate around race. It is cursory at best. And so yeah, this to me is all about living embodiment, and working intimately with each other’s body in order to, and I don’t mean freaky stuff, I don’t mean freaky body stuff because you know what man sometimes I’m talking and I’ll be like, okay, I just said, man, I need to go back and say some about that because I know people will take that and all of a sudden start doing conversion therapy on somebody and all of a sudden start doing superseding boundaries and all of that different type of stuff. And that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the intimacy of somebody knowing and you letting somebody witness you and you observing them without words. You allow the embodied language to present itself and work with that, as opposed to looking for intellect as your way out of this.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 10:53
Thanks, Resmaa. It makes perfect sense to me that a kind of a flash in the pan emotional response at best has no impact, at worst, inflames the situation. I just want to express my gratitude for the map that you laid out in “My grandmother’s hands”, that leads through the body. Correct me if I’m wrong, in this paying attention, and actually feeling the clean pain, and through accessing our own embodied experience, we can begin to actually unpack and digest the intergenerational centuries of white on white violence, which has now been displaced over 400 years in this country. I’m wondering, in terms of speaking to white bodies, can you explain a little more why it’s necessary to confront and digest intergenerational transmission in order to be effective?
Resmaa Menakem 11:47
Yeah, well, think about it, Will. This next thing I’m going to say to many white people, they know it in their bones, but they’re not speaking. And it is that most of their ancestors came here, fleeing something. Just hold that for a beat. Most of their ancestors came here, fleeing. So, that energy of fleeing unmetabolized can wreak havoc. If you just take one person that was fleeing, one person that was fleeing the amount of cortisol that’s dropped into the nervous system. Cortisol is only supposed to be in the nervous system and leave, you piss it out. You do, would what you do and you move on? What about if you’re fleeing, and that fleeing energy is something that’s gotten passed down? You don’t really have a context for it. You just understand it as notions. You understand it as a vibe. You understand it as sensate but you also are born into a society where that type of knowledge is not a knowledge that’s cultivated. It’s a knowledge just pushed off to the side. So, one of the things that I say to white folks is that that energy of fleeing never got metabolized. As a matter of fact, the fleeing energy, the responses to the fleeing energy actually got standardized as the way to work or the way to do things. That’s what makes white body supremacy so vexing for white folks, is that their standard in their virtue is wrapped up in it. So, if I’m virtuous, it’s really hard to get at the limitations of that virtue. If my virtue is standardized, but my understanding of my virtue got standardized in the context of trauma, of fleeing, then there is really no onus for me to address it. I may get shocked that something but nothing there’s no energy for me to sustain it so I actually excavate and dig and be careful about it, and then notice the quaking that happens and the urge to want to stop it. But instead of stopping it, I let it continue to vibrate so something can emerge anew. I don’t do that because I’m standardized. Did that make sense Will? That’s the piece. That’s why white people trying to fix black folks and trying to fix indigenous people and trying to do all that. It’ll never work. Because if white folks don’t begin to develop culture around that stuff, they’ll keep blowing it through my body. They’ll keep blowing through indigenous bodies. They won’t have enough space to be able to say, well, maybe we should give South Dakota back to the indigenous people. There’s no room for that. Right? If white people even begin to talk about stuff like that, if white people even begin to talk about reparations, let me tell you something. Something just happened to me yesterday. I’m walking through Target. I was at Target with my wife and my son. We’re walking through Target. Everybody’s got on the masks, right? So everybody’s walking by and people have started to take these masks and start to actually use them to say things and kind of let you know this is where I’m at with stuff and you know, stuff is written on there. So, I’m walking through and this white dude comes walking through. He’s got a little ponytail. He’s walking through, but he’s got a mask on so I got a Biggie Smalls mask on right. I got a little bigger. He’s got this big face mask on that’s got black lives matter all across, like Black Lives Matter. Right? And one of the things that I don’t do when white people are walking around in whatever talking about Black Lives Matter or indigenous lives matter. Whatever it is, whatever thing they wanted to sloganize, I don’t like to look at him and not be like, yeah, let’s get it. I don’t do that because whatever it takes for you to develop a level of maturity is not going to be because I’m encouraging you. You’re gonna have to develop that yourself. That’s not my job. And so, when I saw him, I just turned. I just look back down looking at my phone. So, he came because he tried to catch eyes with me. He tried to catch eyes, right? So, I just put my head down, and he kept walking through. But then as he got past me, I looked up, right. And when I looked up, there was this other white dude with his kid coming the opposite way as that guy was going so, they were going in the opposite way, right? And I looked at him, he didn’t see me. And as I’m looking at him, he looks at the other white guy with the black lives matter. And he rolls his eyes. He goes like that. Wow. And I said, That’s it right there. That ain’t got nothing to do with me. Right? That has nothing to do with me. And intimacy would be them working through that first. Not working it through me, not saving me working that. And what’s in there that has been unexamined that should be exactly right, and then sustaining it and holding it and coming back to it and grinding with it.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 17:02
That’s the work. That’s a beautiful example that crystallizes the point really well. This is a problem that white people need to get after. They have to take responsibility to change the culture.
Resmaa Menakem 17:15
Exactly right. We’ve tried everything else. Black people tried to appeal to the moral pieces. Indigenous people have tried to appeal to the human pieces. We’ve tried it all. We’ve fought, we’ve not fought. We’ve said “can I?”. We’ve said, “I’m going to let you know this”; and we get shot in the back and shot in front of our children, and shot in the bed while we’re sleeping and kneeled on. And then once I die, then you tell everybody, what a bad guy I am. I mean, you know, it’s just, there’s no way black and indigenous and brown people are going to keep letting white folks know, I’m human. I know you don’t believe that. And I’m not talking about your Individual beliefs. I’m talking about your philosophical structural belief. I have never been considered human. That’s woven into the very constitution. It’s woven into the structure. So, it is not just about race, it is about the fact that science, military, philosophy, law and economics has this woven into the architecture. So.
Keith Kurlander 17:15
Yeah, thanks Resmaa. You know, sitting in a white body and speaking as a white body hearing you say what you’re saying, I think that the real challenge among white bodies is that when we talk about the implicit strategies that are coming from our bodies, that are strategies of oppression, and in order to maintain some type of opportunity, or something that’s all implicit. So, there’s plenty of people that explicitly think this way. The real challenge as white bodies, how do we challenge ourselves? If that’s not what we’re thinking, but that’s what we’re feeling. And we don’t know it, right, and that we’re actually acting from maintaining opportunity in a social structure. And we’re not willing to go look and see that we’re still doing that. I think your work is pointing out like, wake up, we’re behaving from this body-based level. And looking at that body-based level is threatening. That’s the issue.
Resmaa Menakem 19:32
That’s the issue. We have to stop talking about the things that we’re going through as feelings. A lot of times we say, I’m feeling this, I’m feeling that, and what’s actually going on is that there’s an overall experience, there’s a vibratory experience, there is an image and thought experience there is a meaning making experience, there is a behavioral and urge experience, there is an aspect of feeling experience, there is a sensation experience. What accounts that all as feelings, it’s not an operational frame. When you say I’m feeling this, there’s a genuflect to emotionality. That’s one frame. That’s one piece. People are having an overall experience. And so white folks, a lot of times when you’re talking about race, they’re having an experience, but they have not developed in an embodied language or articulation or cultural language or articulation for what that experience is. So, they say I’m feeling, I’m feeling this, or I’m feeling that. And that’s actually not getting to what the experience is. And so, I would argue with you that this is not just housed in the implicit. I would argue with you that it is explicit. Because there is no context for how to deal with the explicit. You just don’t address it because your bodies are standard. And so, I think like people are doing all this implicit bias training and stuff like that, and DEI working on it, and that’s not getting at. The reason why it’s not getting at it is because we’re starting with a frame that doesn’t work to get at it. So, for instance, let me ask you guys a question. So, when you talk about DEI, right, we just talked about diversity and inclusion and all that different type of stuff. Let me ask you a question. When you say, if I’ve been in workshops, or experiences, I’ve asked everybody in there and I say, raise your hand, if you believe in diversity. Everybody raised their hand, raise your hand, if you believe in inclusive, everybody raised their hand, right. And then I asked this question. Diverse, from what? Because if you’re saying diversity, you’re saying, you’re starting with a standard first and you want to diversify from that standard. What is the standard that we all know? But we never say. We all know that when we’re talking about diversity, we’re talking about diversifying from the white body as being standard, but if you never say it, then diversity can mean color green Wednesday, it can be you can see her on Tuesday, it can be dreamcatcher Thursday. You know what I mean? It becomes this kind of very surface understanding of culture and what we’re dealing with. And what I would say is that part of the problem is we haven’t defined diversity in a way that actually allows white people to actually deal with the pain of it in their gut, and work with it. So, what do we say? diversity is everything. We’re looking at the diverse tapestry of the world and how that differs at the end. And then bodies of culture, go to those training and are like, man, I don’t want to do this. Because I get filleted open. White people asking me all these questions. This white woman over there in the corner starting to cry, and I just feel like I want to choke her. Because now everybody’s supposed to lean in, and that’s on the same par as what I’m dealing with. And it’s because my organizing mooring definitely have kind of like the somatic abolitionist idea is, the white body is the supreme standard by which all bodies humanity shall be measured structurally and philosophically, if you don’t understand that, if you can’t hold on to that you will miss, you will start to do things that will support white body supremacy. You will continue to do that because that’s the standard. And so, for me, when it comes to things like diversity, if I was to say, if you believe in inclusion, what are we including in? What’s the standard? What are we saying? We said, we want to include in what? Include black people into what, right? And you have to start with that organizing piece around the white body because otherwise it becomes, and people are making billions of dollars off of this implicit bias stuff. They’re making billions of dollars off of this GEI work, and it goes unchallenged. And what I’m saying is that the reason why it’s unusable when you’re talking about liberation, the reason why it’s unusable when you’re talking about organizational change and organizational growth, the reason why it’s unusable is that the contexts that exist will only give you what you already have, it will not give you the liberation of people, because that’s not the design of this system is not broken. This system is operating exactly the way it was designed to operate. But see, when I’m saying this, there’s a lot of white people that are listening to this now that have already turned this off. There are a lot of white people that are listening to this now and are now so mad at me and mad at you right now. You’re going to get some emails. Wanting to speak to your manager and stuff? Because I’m talking about a standard that does not center white folks. I’m talking about a standard that says, look, y’all got to work this. This is one of the reasons I have stopped saying white privilege. I don’t say white privilege anymore. I say white advantage. In a society that’s predicated, but in a world is predicated on the white body being the supreme standard by which all bodies humanity shall be measured, philosophically and structurally, in a world like that, it is an advantage before you mumble one word and say one thing. It is an advantage to be born into a white body before anything else. It is an advantage to be born in a white body, in a society that’s structured and predicated on a white body being standard. And everything else being a deviance from that standard. And I say white advantage. But now, you will have white people that have a reflexive response that says, well, we all humans first. So, when you hear that what you’re watching people do is that they’re playing with the structural pieces, and then they’re playing with the innate pieces and the intrinsic pieces. And I stopped people from doing that. Don’t play with that. Yes, innately and intrinsically, I am a worthy, adequate human being. But that is not what I’m talking about right now. I’m talking about the structural beast.
Keith Kurlander 26:17
Yeah. I mean, you’re naming That’s not the problem. That’s right. The problem is white body supremacy. And what you’re saying is we’re not constellating around the problem and diversity work.
Resmaa Menakem 26:29
Exactly. Not only are we not constellating around it, we don’t even see it as a problem. Right. You guys have been in those diversity training sessions. Right? You’ve seen them. Right? You can see that something in your gut goes to the same gig. You go to the whole thing, the whole two days you got this. That was cool. But There’s this kind of unease about it.
Keith Kurlander 26:54
Yeah, I mean, I would say that all my training historically, I would leave going did we actually get anywhere? That’s what will be happening in my body.
Resmaa Menakem 27:02
That’s exactly right. What was this for? And then you know what happens? You leave like that with that question and bodies of culture leave, wounded and rewounded. And filleted open, and not knowing why they keep putting themselves through that. That’s what happens. And it’s because white bodies in the diversity racket they understand, don’t make white people nervous. So even though we’re going to be talking about this stuff, we want to make sure that we make everybody comfortable, right? We want to make sure that we use words that don’t make some white people get a little nervous. But the majority of white people will say we did a good job, right? That’s it. That’s the racket. That’s the play. And if you’re going to be doing what I call somatic abolitionists work, you’re going to have to hold on to the fact that people are not gonna like what you’re doing. People are going to hate it. People are going to say you’re racist. You’re reverse racist and you don’t like white people, and all of that different type of stuff. And those are just dodges.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 28:10
That reminds me in your book talking about the myth of white fragility. And kind of this myth that white folks can’t tolerate any level of challenge to their values, to their blind spots, to look inside, as you say, actually feel the pain. And also reminds me of a story you shared in the book about how I believe you said that your wife Maria noticed you taking care of white people by crossing the street, or by making room for them. I think it’d be helpful to hear a little more about your kind of deprogramming, if you will, or your healing process if you’d be willing to share that.
Resmaa Menakem 28:54
So, one of the strategies the bodies of culture have had to learn in order to navigate a white body supremacy world is we’ve had to learn how to racial cape. Right? racial caping is that you always keep white people calm by getting bodies of culture, not to voice what needs to be voiced. So, you keep giving up on yourself, right? In order to keep white people calm, because when white people get nervous black people die. When white people get nervous, indigenous people lose their land, when white people get nervous people get inflamed, towns get burned because I suppose a 12-year-old black kid named Emmett Till whistled at a white girl. You know, people get hung from bridges when that type of stuff happens. So, we know in our bodies, that our relationship together is fraught with us trying to make sure that y’all calm down. Right? And so, my wife, I didn’t realize just how much I was doing that, until my wife told me I was doing it. And in the book, I talked about how when we first started dating, we’d be walking down the street, white person would be coming. And I would drop her hand, and then walk and move out of the way. So, the person would keep coming. And my wife just watched me do that, like, three, four or five times. And then one time we’re doing we’re going down the street, and she goes, and she stopped me. And because I was starting to pull away, she stopped me and grabbed my hand and pulled back and stopped me right there in the middle of the sidewalk. She looked at me and said stop doing that. I don’t even know what I’m doing. I said, what is it? Why are you so mad? And she was like, every time a white person comes, every time they come, I watch you get nervous. I watch you start moving. And then I was like, I’m not doing, I’m just trying to be nice. I’m just trying to be helpful. She goes they are not even thinking about moving out of your way. She goes, white folks have been conditioned to have black people be in deference to them. That’s been the whole thing. And she said, you don’t see it. Now, I was practicing therapist then. So a couple of times later, we walked down the street. This might even be maybe three, four months later walking down the street. And as we’re walking down the street, a white woman is coming, and I’m seeing her and I’m watching my body, like, do this thing in my gut, like, until my wife said it, I didn’t even know it was there. And I was like, I was holding it for a bit. And then I grabbed her hand a little tighter, and walked in, because I already know she prefers that. And she already knows. So, we continued walking, and all of a sudden, I didn’t get off the side. That white lady walked right into me. Boom! Right there. Oh, like that. And then she skirted around and she said I’m sorry. She walked around. And she goes, my wife stopped me. She goes, you are six foot one. How couldn’t she see you? The reason why she couldn’t see you, is because you’re not supposed to be here. And I said, I get it. And that was the last time I started doing that. I was like, I’m not doing this. I’m not jumping around. I’m not, I’m just not. Now, I realized that it is a very risky proposition not to take care of white bodies, because white bodies have been conditioned for my body to take care of their body, to perform, to do things to anticipate that not doing that is a proposition rooted in death. And I’m not saying when I say rooted in death, some people will hear me as hyperbole. I’m not talking to hyperbole. I’m talking black people, not making white people feel comfortable is a recipe for death.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 33:02
And that’s been passed down and experienced over at least 400 years.
Resmaa Menakem 33:09
Exactly. And not just experienced in my body but also experienced in the white body. The piece is that white bodies don’t even know the stuff that we’re talking about, they don’t even notice something that needs to be addressed. Right?
Keith Kurlander 33:24
Right. Because they don’t have to think about it.
Resmaa Menakem 33:27
Don’t have to. It’s not even part of the equation. And so that’s why when people say have things gotten better? And people are having these epiphanies. I can’t tell you a number of my friends from high school contacted me after brother Floyd got murdered. Oh my god and you’re up in Minneapolis and all this different type of stuff. Each one that did that who reached out to me, I blocked everyone. You will not be sucking my life energy with me trying to explain to you and then me getting wounded in the process. I’m not doing that. Did I explain that?
Dr. Will Van Derveer 34:03
Yeah. I’m feeling a lot of gratitude for the fierceness and Maria to challenge you that way to wake you up.
Resmaa Menakem 34:10
Man, she calls it like she sees it. And it was helpful. But yeah, these are the things that I remember my mom doing similar stuff I remember. I mean, in the black community, those are strategies like when somebody is walking around in the zombie state, the strategy is to look, you know, I can’t make you do it. But look, let me just keep you to this. Those are the types of things that we’ve had to do in order to navigate the communal brutality. That happens too.
Keith Kurlander 34:39
Yeah, I mean, so you know, we’re definitely talking a lot about racialized trauma and strategies that develop right? Just curious if you want to unpack a little more just the sense of self that can happen among black Americans and their mind and mental health. Especially when we’re talking to mental health providers that they need to know more. Right?
Resmaa Menakem 35:07
Yeah. Well think about it, man. You can go through all of your education and never have one section about racialized trauma. It’s not standard. And so, the white body, even in our field is the standard. And so, there’s this weathering that occurs being in the structure of which the white body is the standard. There is a weathering that occurs on the nervous system, on the musculoskeletal system, on the reproductive system, on brain architecture, on the cardiovascular system, there is a weathering that occurs and that weathering gets passed down decontextualize. Racialized trauma, in a person over time, can look like personality. Racialized trauma in a family over time can look like family traits. Racialized trauma, in people over time can look like culture. And so, the weathering effects of my great, great, great grandmother being raped over and over and over and over again. And then not only just her, but then the other women on that plantation, and then the men also engaging in that activity. Think about that. Think about somebody being raped. That’s one thing, but somebody being raped and it’s sanctioned.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 36:45
That’s a whole different level.
Resmaa Menakem 36:47
A whole different level. There’s no reprieve. We know in trauma work, that there needs to at some point be reprieve and repair. We don’t even acknowledge that the rapes even occurred. We say that happened so long ago y’all should be over it. The brutality of a black woman’s body being torn apart and the black man’s body being torn apart. And now what I just said, and I’m just watching y’all, you notice something, something is happening for you. There was something happening, they’re shutting down or stirring, or something wanted to move or something, right? In that piece. As you notice that stirring, imagine the stirring in a black body. Now, put a baby inside that body with the levels of cortisol, levels of norepinephrine, the levels of the protective hormones, right? That doesn’t recede. So now you’re having a baby being born in that, at the time that they’re very nervous system is being developed. So what gets imprinted on that is notions of danger without any context. So by the time it gets to me, and I’m having these urges and these ideas, and I think I’m crazy and something’s wrong with me, but nobody’s ever told me that stuff because of the way that my mother’s nervous system was organized around her mother’s nervous system was organized around her mother’s nervous system. By the time it gets to me, my mother can’t talk to me about that, because it’s decontextualized. So what happens is we put the defect inside of us, as opposed to what happened to us. This is what, if we’re doing this type of work around trauma and racialize trauma, we have to understand those pieces, because otherwise, you start looking for cures.
Keith Kurlander 38:58
Right. Yeah, you’re looking for relief. You’re looking for the person to get relief.
Resmaa Menakem 39:03
To help the person understand context and in processing the embodied context so the energy can be metabolized, right? As opposed to trying to cure it and wipe it away, and yoga it away, and Christianize it away and Buddhism it away. All of that different type of stuff. It’s got to be metabolized, right? It’s one of the reasons why in my book, I don’t have white people working with bodies of culture. I don’t have white people, because I believe white people got to do that work with each other first, so there’s more room available. Otherwise it just becomes prescriptions.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 39:46
I think I just got something really important from your Resmaa. I want to check it out. It sounds like you talk in the book a lot about metabolizing trauma, which is Keith and I like to talk about it too, but there’s a piece that you just gave of, it’s sort of like if you’re going to metabolize, if you’re going to change something inside of a crucible to something else, you got to have the context and as a container.
Resmaa Menakem 40:13
Exactly right. And that context that the crucible has to be thick enough to withstand the charge of 400 or 500 years of brutality. And many times, white healing professionals don’t have a thick enough crucible to actually withstand that charge because they haven’t done their own stuff. Right? And so, when stuff gets too hot, they crack apart. Right? Because they can’t hold it.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 40:40
Right. And then you put a Band-Aid on it, you do something to divert it to avoid it.
Resmaa Menakem 40:45
Or you blow it through, blow it back through those bodies. Something must be wrong. Something’s really wrong with you but the problem is in the person. The crucible builds in the container building is the most important part when organizations start them off with a year of learning first, with just a small group of people that can begin to do the embodied work with each other first, to be in to develop the container, the container doesn’t exist first, you have to actually create it. So, charges, speed, weight, the texture, and the direction, all of that stuff can be housed in one place first, and then all of that stuff starts to cook in there. This is the problem with white people. When white people start saying, well, we need to have a conversation on race, and then they wonder why they can’t get people to come back. Because you haven’t built a container that can hold that charge.
Keith Kurlander 41:48
And this is partly the conversation of clean and dirty paint. This is about building the container and that becomes clean paint.
Resmaa Menakem 41:57
That’s exactly right. As adults, when it comes to race, white people as a collective are infants. If you really read with some of the white abolitionists, the only abolition is if you will show me some, just give me what John Brown. John Brown put his body in the middle of this right? There was an embodied ethos that he had that said, I am going to use myself in order to make sure that this institution crumbles at my feet. That’s not what most of the abolitionists were saying. Most of the abolitionists were either saying, we need to have a segregationist stance, meaning that we need to help them have their own because they are really not the same species as us, or we need to have an integrationist stance, which means that they need to come closer to white people being more like white people, and therefore they will get that’s the abolitionist stance. But that thing that I want to be involved in when we’re talking about is an embodied anti-racist practice understanding and culture building. And that doesn’t exist for white folks right now.That has to be developed.
Keith Kurlander 43:11
Yeah. Did you term the Vagal nerve? The soul nerve, was that you? Yeah. I love that term. So, it brings me to when we’re talking about containers that were partly talking about the soul nerve. Right? Acting as a container for the world. Right? I wonder if you want to just speak to that.
Resmaa Menakem 43:33
Yeah, man. So, in my new book I’m writing now, my new book I’m talking about not only the soul nerve, but I’m talking about the soul muscle. And the soul muscle is the psoas muscle. That psoas muscle man is a beast. That psoas muscle connects the top part of the body with the lower part of the body and shows up in the hips. And it is why when you’re working with some clients, and some people in some communities, where you see this kind of ethos around locking down, around stuckness, around pain in the hippest stuff like areas, and people want to go to manipulate that and try and figure out how to give some relief to it. And honestly, there are parts of that psoas muscle, that the reason why this locking down, the energy of it is not even yours. It’s the pass through. It’s how you got organized by watching what your mama and your daddy recoil from and leaned into. And your body got organized around that and that locking down, that hip muscle, the psoas is the mobilizing-immobilizing muscle of the body. It locks it down because it’s safe to lock it down. It mobilizes because it’s safer to mobilize. And so, the vagal nerve, man, that thing is why you could talk to your mom or talk to your brother, or talk to somebody that you love and you could be talking to them and all of a sudden you go, what’s wrong? And they’ll go, nothing’s wrong. And you’ll go, nah! Something’s happening. That’s the vagal nerve constricting. It’s why you have gut reactions to something. And he’s like, man, I don’t know. But you have some type of experience going on in your belly, but you don’t have an embodied articulation of it. But you know, something is off. We have to allow that energy to emerge. But that has to be cultivated, not individually, but by grinding and allowing yourself to be seen and witnessed. That’s how that counts.
Keith Kurlander 45:36
Yeah, it’s the social emotional radar system that we have to give full permission to.
Resmaa Menakem 45:41
That’s right. It has to be cultivated to work.
Keith Kurlander 45:44
To work the way it’s designed to work.
Resmaa Menakem 45:45
Well, because the working of it means that you have to calibrate it. The working of it means that you have to develop in attunement, not just a therapeutic attunement, but there’s an attunement to where if I’ve gone through some somatic abolitionist stuff and we’ve been doing it for a year or year and a half, when I walk into a room and you walk into a room and somebody says something, and we haven’t been intimate with each other for a year, and you’ve allowed me to witness you and observe you, and share with you and do all that different type of stuff, not just verbal sharing, but just like, work with my body, not freaky stuff once again, but just observe me and work with my body. When I walk into a room something funky is said, or there is a vibe. I already know we have a shared understanding of shared language shared mooring that there’s certain things that you know, that you should be doing as a white body and certain things that you need to lean into or pull back from or yield because we have done it over here. I’ve done it over here. So, when we get into a room, and somebody says something, now all of a sudden we have a different mooring between us. But that can happen and white people don’t even see the need for it.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 46:55
Right, it’s that container that’s the context. I wonder if we could talk about blue bodies for a few minutes.
Resmaa Menakem 47:05
Let me tell you some about my new book. I’ve stopped saying blue bodies. I’m not gonna say blue body but it’s a blue shirt. It’s not a body. And I got some feedback, my brother’s a cop. And he’s one of the ones that said that to me. He said, Dude, I love your book, all that type of stuff, he said, but what I experienced when I take off my uniform as a black man is not the same thing that these white boys experienced. And so, I think all of the same things that I was saying, work, but I’m not equating a career with a body anymore. In writing, you learn something, just an evolving process.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 47:42
Right? That sounds like a good update. I have a brother in law, who is a police officer as well. And hearing you talking about your brother has experienced so it’s the department in Dallas really resonated deeply with me and the way you described basing these incredibly intense experiences over and over day after day expecting to sleep well and go back and show up. As if nothing happened. I’m wondering, are you still working with the police?
Resmaa Menakem 48:16
I’m still working with some. I’ve had to really kind of watch my own energy output with police departments. In some ways, the same way that I work with other organizations is that if you’re willing to, here’s one of the things that happens is that this embodied work is a different type of work. It is exhausting to do embodied anti-racist work. Like I can go in and do DI training and be like, yeah, I’m like, nobody’s work at this hour, right? But when I do these training, I am exhausted because you’re having to hold. I’m having to hold all of those nervous systems. And so, I’ve had to leave, evaluate whether or not I want to keep doing that if the organizations that I’m working with are not committing, number one, they’re not committing to saying that they want to do it for a long period of time. If they’re not going to pay me to do it, like, well, we got to wait for a grant. I don’t do grants. I’m not doing that. Because what happens is that if you have to wait for grant and you start to work, and this is my experience, if you have to wait for grant and I start to work, when I start, when stuff starts getting too close for those bodies that said that they wanted it, the first thing that happens is that they stop having me come and therefore, you know what I mean? So, I’ve really had to evaluate over the last year or two, how much I want to invest in that. I do some investing but if I’m going to be working with police departments again, there’s going to have to be a whole lot of commitment upfront. And it’s going to have to be guaranteed up front and not just the money but that they’re going to work this through and be willing to look at it from the ground up.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 50:01
It makes sense on both levels of fair exchange and also you wanting to actually have a lasting impact on the level that you know as possible.
Resmaa Menakem 50:08
And I want bodies, I want indigenous bodies and brown bodies or black bodies to stop being murdered and the murder being sanctioned. This qualified immunity stuff is a license to kill black and brown bodies. You have people that are saying, you know, I didn’t know that the police were doing this and all this type of stuff. And the thing that pops into my head is like, there has never been a time in America where the police were not sanctioned to kill black bodies. I mean, if you really look at policing, as it relates to black bodies, there has never been a time where the sheriff in the old southern town wasn’t also the Ku Klux klan member. There has never been a time where the sheriff’s daughter wasn’t married to the judge that came around, right? I mean, these pieces that we go, man, you know, I wish things wouldn’t go back to the way they were. Black people go this is the way that they were. Cleave that you think was there between people who want to destroy black bodies and those that are there to protect. That cleave that you think is there It has never been there.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 51:28
Right. Again, just setting the context, right? If the context is to go back to what’s already always been the problem, that’s not the right context.
Resmaa Menakem 51:39
It’s not the right context. You know, so yeah.
Keith Kurlander 51:42
We’re coming to the end here soon. But uh, yeah, we could talk for hours. First off, I want to give you an opportunity to say what you’re up to. How can people get more of your work? Get on the train here to do some work?
Resmaa Menakem 51:58
Yeah. So the first thing I would say is go to www.resmaa.com where I have a free e-course up there as well as a paid e-course. And some more classes that are coming. I’m actually, we’re gonna kind of assert the program. I also think that start reading the book, and start doing the practices. And even when you get a gear into the book, and you’re done with it, if you do two chapters a month, even when you’re done with it, then go back and read it again. There’s a process that I call soul scribing, where I have people actually write based on those numbers, the vibes, the images, the meaning, like just write on that and scribe on it, and don’t talk about it first. Describe it, then go back and read what you wrote. And then share what you wrote. I’ve been having white bodies and bodies of culture do that, and develop triads and stuff like that. And so, you can find information about that on www.resmaa.com. I’m working with a couple organizations www.embodied gatherings.com. I’m working with education for racial equity, doing a lot of workshops for them and stuff like that. So just become a friend on my Instagram. I put out free content on my Instagram every day, every four times a week. I put things for people just to contemplate and look at small bite sized pieces, one to two minutes. And yeah, so just, you know, hit me up on Instagram. Let’s do that.
Keith Kurlander 53:25
Great. We wrap up with the same question with every guest. That’s if you had a billboard that everyone would see once in their life. There is a paragraph on there, every human would see it once in their lifetime. Right? What would you say to them?
Resmaa Menakem 53:49
I would say, let’s usher in a living, embodied philosophy that’s predicated on somatic abolitionism.
Keith Kurlander 53:59
Right. Beautiful. Beautiful. Well, Resmaa thanks so much for being on the show.
Resmaa Menakem 54:03
Yes. Thank you guys. I appreciate you. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 54:06
Yeah. Thank you. Deep, pleasure to be with you, Resmaa. Thank you for your work.
Resmaa Menakem 54:10
Thank you both.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 54:14
Wow, I feel so moved by this conversation with Resmaa Menakem. Because I think that the roadmap that Resmaa presents the possibility of our species moving toward healing through somatic presence to pain, and through somatic presence to the pain in our bodies, access into intergenerational wounding just resonates as true for me as a potent and effective way for us to do the healing that we need to do around racialized trauma. So, thank you to Resmaa Menakem for being our guest today and sharing so deeply, and so potently the importance of attending to this aspect of our healing. We look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of the higher practice podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.