The word “unprecedented” has been used so often lately in reference to COVID 19 that I was getting tired of hearing and reading it. That was until George Floyd’s murder by policemen in Minneapolis ignited an unprecedented international movement against police violence and institutionalized racism.
Due to my current circumstances — because I’m still recovering from radiation and chemotherapy, I’ve been under strict doctor’s orders to maintain social distancing and to keep sheltering at home — I haven’t been able to participate in demonstrations. However, this afforded me time to reflect on the start of my political activism and to consider what we can do going forward.
The first demonstration I ever participated in was about getting Amherst College, where I was in my first year, to divest from South Africa. At the time, as a member of the Intergroup Relations Committee, I participated in the discussions we sponsored on campus focused on addressing and dealing with racism. These forward-thinking discussions were incredibly controversial because, to avoid turning to black people and putting the burden on them to explain the problem, white students met with other white students and (an experienced) facilitator.
The lessons I started learning back then are still relevant now.
“The black unicorn was mistaken
for a shadow
through a cold country
where mist painted mockery of my fury.”
Having spent my first years in France and then growing up in white America, I was ignorant of black culture. My high school in upstate New York had one black student and an entirely caucasian faculty. The curriculum was a white-washed version of both history and contemporary society.
One way to counteract that upbringing was learning about black culture, past and present. Reading my first black novel, Zora Neal Hurston’s Their eyes were watching God and hearing Gwendolyn Brooks read her poetry changed my world. As did seeing the Broadway production of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf and reading Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.
That began a long journey of challenging and deep learning that continues today. Though I’d read James Baldwin before, the other day I watched the recent documentary, I am not your Negro, which brought his words and the reality of those times starkly to life. As a way of commemorating today being Juneteenth, I’m going to watch Selma tonight.
There are so many books, films, performances, and more that are readily available. I wonder what’s on your nightstand (or wherever your current stack of reading materials lives) or on your watch list.
”Injustice anywhere is a threat
to justice everywhere.”
— Martin Luther King
Contact your local, state or provincial, and national representatives to let them know you demand social justice and that you support new legislation to redress change in our institutions and government.
If you don’t know how to do that yet, how about taking 20 minutes of search online to find the names, the phone numbers, and the email addresses of the officials you elected. (If you live in the US, click here to find out who they are and how to reach them.) Then give 20 minutes a week — or a month — to contacting them to advocate for nondiscriminatory and antiracist policies.
Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or other media outlet.
Support organizations doing the work, such as Black Lives Matter.
Become a part of what’s happening in your local community.
“If there is no struggle,
There is no progress.”
— Frederick Douglass
Bring it home
This is, indeed, a time of reckoning.
There are no easy answers here, but it’s time to start asking questions and figure out how to move forward, both professionally and personally.
We need to reconsider our work in the field of somatics in terms of race and to figure out how to become part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem. We need to consider this in terms of how we run training programs and who participates in them as well as who we work with and how we can make our work both more accessible and more relevant.
Social worker, trauma therapist, and writer Resmaa Menaken’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands, is a revolutionary and profoundly somatic reconsideration of the relationship between race and trauma. If you’re not familiar with his work, you can start learning about it listening to his discussion with Kritsa Tippet. I just enrolled in his online course on racialized body trauma; it’s free and you can sign up for it here.
In terms of proactively uprooting racism in our society and ourselves, I found listening to Brené Brown’s interview with academician and author Ibram X. Kendi about being antiracist yesterday revelatory and inspiring. I highly recommend it.
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