The body is where our instincts reside and where we fight, flee, or freeze. My Grandmother’s Hands is a call to action for Americans to recognize that racism is not about the head, but about the body. Author Resmaa Menakem introduces an alternative view of what we can do to grow beyond our entrenched racialized divide.
I had been so excited to finally find a book about trauma that talked about the ways that racism and systemic oppression inflict trauma, and this book was a starting point but not fully there. If you can get past the cop apologia (his brother is a cop, and he trains police departments), the offensive language (e.g. “yellow bodies” and “red bodies”), some fatphobia, and the whole concept of “police bodies,” there are a lot of gems in here — particularly in part 2. There are specific breathing exercises and strategies to help settle your body and, as Menakem writes, act "from the best parts of yourself." I also really appreciated the ideas about how to better protect ourselves from internalizing oppression, not just on a cognitive level but on a somatic level. That said, the gaps in here reinforced for me that we need both cognitive and somatic approaches. For prison and police abolitionists, I recommend skipping the chapters on police entirely, as Menakem believes that cops just need to be trained to heal their trauma in order to end police violence. It felt particularly strange to me that he was able to trace the history of white people's violence, but when it came to policing, he made it seem as though policing in the U.S. was once useful for protecting communities and somehow lost its way, which seemed ahistorical. The first two chapters of part 3 are very good, but the rest of the chapters in that section are redundant. I think I would’ve given the book 4 stars if I had known in advance to skip those chapters.
* white supremacy is more accurately called white-body supremacy. it's got less to do with supremacy of white skin and more to do with supremacy of bodies that are considered white. this could be seen as semantic but is quite helpful. * white-body supremacy lives in our BODIES; it's in our blood, dna, flesh, and the pre-cognitive parts of our brains (aka the lizard brain). * as such, trainings that focus on the mind as the site from which to undo white-body supremacy will never be enough. * undoing white-body supremacy is first and foremost a somatic endeavor. the cognitive/thinking parts will flow second (because the lizard brain, the part tied to our vegus nerve, is both faster than cognition AND the vegus nerve can override cognition). * clean pain is when you know that a difficult thing needs to be done, you know what that thing is, and you do it because healing/growth are on the other side. dirty pain is all the subsequent pain when clean pain is avoided. * a settled body accepts attempts at healing (clean pain). an unsettled body rejects attempts at healing (and therefore creates dirty pain). * settling your body is not the same as healing, but you will improve your capacity to heal when you can settle your body. * the trauma of american slavery is rooted in the trauma of european bodies through the middle ages. whipping and hangings started in europe because they were brought to the u.s. the people who brought slaves to the u.s. need to heal their ancestral trauma in order for folks on this soil to move forward.
**If I implemented one idea from this book right now, which one would it be?**
* anti-racism work is somatic. we need to create opportunities for people's actual bodies to learn how to have non-traumatic responses to bodies that they have lizard brain reactions to. those reactions that are based in trauma, are not helpful because they are knee-jerk and not intentional or conscious.
**How would I describe the book to a friend?**
this is a theoretical guide book and instruction manual for how to actually undo white(-body) supremacy.
I've studied racism and been part of anti-racism work for over 25 years, and I have to say, this book is one of the most valuable pieces of work on the topic that I've read. Menakem's teachings don't replace or supplant other racial liberation tactics or philosophies, but instead give us a fresh way to expand how we understand the lived racial experience we ALL have. It gives us another road into this work, a road that seems essential to travel, even as we commit and recommit ourselves to multiple additional types of racial liberation work. Plus, Menakem's writing style is accessible, clear and blunt - just what this topic needs.
It feels hokey and overblown to say, but I'll say it anyway - this should be on the reading list of anyone and everyone who cares about racial justice and liberation in the US.
I'm real tempted to justify my whole two-star review by simply reporting that the author advocates police officers taking bubble baths as a significant part of the solution to police brutality.
But there's more to talk about. So here's the long version.
I wanted so badly to like this. The premise of this book is really deeply compelling. Unfortunately the author doesn't elaborate much on his initial ideas, beyond compiling other people's work and not explaining it very well. He indicates concepts instead of teaching them. If you haven't explored white fragility or moral injury or somatic healing in other contexts, this might break some ground for you and be valuable for that reason. But all subjects brought up here have deeper and more competent treatments available elsewhere. And the parts here touching on police violence are just an absolute wreck.
The body awareness exercises here include: - entirely intellect-oriented exercises with "and how does your body feel?" added on at the end, which isn't actual body work; - unexpected and untagged visualizations of stressful or traumatic situations, which is a poor decision for a book that purports to work respectfully with trauma; - and some rudimentary, superficial body practices around trauma, vaguely explained and often "supported" by inaccurate neurological explanations.
The depth of the embodiment work here is a disappointment, rarely exploring further than insights like 'antiracist leaders should find a signature garment to wear to inspire solidarity'.
Phrases like soul nerve, and clean pain vs dirty pain, are introduced as vital concepts but only clumsily and superficially handled. Also included is generalized diet and weight loss advice, which is inappropriate for anyone serious about bodywork.
As mentioned above, his analysis of police violence is... woefully inadequate. He does give lip service to the violent history of the system. But he is then overwhelmingly focused on what roles job stress and unintended blunders play in cops killing Black folks, insisting that cops being relaxed enough (he mentions essential oils as well as massage) will impact this juggernaut system stacked against Black folks. The chapter on police body healing involves solutions ranging from cosmetic to invasive in nature, as though cops showing up at Black churches on Sunday morning will fix the carceral state. There's a lack of consistency -- in one chapter, he specifies that police have in fact become an occupying force in Black communities; in another chapter, he shames civilians who see them as that occupying force. It's important that the reader know that the author makes his living in part by training police departments in "self-care" practices - including the Minnneapolis PD where he lives - and he has law enforcement in his immediate family (both of which he is upfront about). This no doubt impacts his working assumptions that policing has fallen away from noble roots it never had, and that the central problem embedded bodily in the system now is just that the job of policing is too stressful.
This is a book that vaguely points toward a lot of good ideas. Just saying that bodies CAN heal from racial violence is indeed powerful and important. We need more somatic work done on racialized trauma. But we need it to be actual body work, not mislabelled cognitive self-reflection, and not a hodge-podge of basic relaxation and simple body-scanning techniques. And we need this work to come out of a context that takes police brutality seriously, that doesn't minimize it or advocate police rescuing more cats from trees as a band-aid for it (and yes, that is another actual suggestion from the book).
"A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world."
I’ve been reading this book s-l-o-w-l-y because the author wants the reader to stop and actually do the practices. There is a lot here about dealing with racialized trauma, not only for individuals but within communities. Specific practices are for black people, and others for white people. There are several chapters about rethinking how police are trained to deal with trauma as well.
If you know mindfulness practices, some of the practices here will be familiar if not quite the same. The strategies for settling the body are definitely some I will be working with.
He ends the book with a challenge for transforming communities and everyday activism. I read this in Hoopla but need to buy it as it isn’t possible to absorb it all the first time.
My Grandmother's Hands was an interesting book about racialized trauma and its effects on our bodies. While the concept of the book sounds brilliant, I was a bit disappointed with its content. -The book is divided in 3 parts. The first part is pretty much Resmaa Menakem stating the same thing over and over and preparing the reader for what his book is going to be about. I found this to be unnecessary and a waste of time. I just wanted him to get to the point. There was no need for him to mention multiple times what books he wrote, what TV shows he's been on, or how his brother is a police officer. It was extremely redundant. -Once you get past part 1, the book becomes interesting. It talks about how racialized trauma can pass from one generation to another and how we are all victims of it and we need to heal in order to move forward. The books also touches on police brutality in the US and how it can improve. I did not agree with this part in particular because it implied that the policing system is a good system found on good intentions and that once it heals, it will get better. I think the problem of police brutality in the US is much bigger than that. -The book also has useful breathing exercises and other strategies to help cope with trauma and heal it. -I found Menakem's use of language to be offensive sometimes. For example, he continuously refers to indigenous people as "red bodies" and Asian people as "yellow bodies" which I think is ignorant and reinforces a stereotype. I found it inappropriate in a book that deals with racialized trauma and systematic racism in general. -I also noticed stereotypical ideas about weight and overweight people. I did not appreciate that and I do not think it was necessary at all.
I think I expected a lot more from this book and I went into it with high expectations. But once I started reading it, I was disappointed. The book is not bad, but it is not great either. It has some useful information on racialized trauma and healing and the exercises provided are really useful. But it had many flaws and I couldn't get past them.
I don't even know where to start with a review of this book. It is such a powerful addition to the conversation about trauma, about white supremacy, about bodily healing of trauma -- and specifically the way that bodies hold the trauma of white body supremacy. The trauma is not only held by bodies of color, and this author actually addresses bodies of color, white bodies, and law enforcement bodies each individually, as well as collective/communal healing of all bodies. There is a lot of unpacking of what types of somatic healing are necessary to help bring about an end to racial violence -- and the ways that we can engage in that work individually and with groups of trusted comrades. Menakem uses a synopsis feature at the end of each chapter that has been so helpful to me as I have gone back and forth between chapters, re-engaging with ideas shared previously, and also has body/breath practice activities throughout the chapters that I found so valuable.
There is way more to be said about this book -- and I may return to say some of it later. Until then, this book ranks up there with Bessel Van Der Kolk's 'The Body Keeps the Score' in terms of resources for considering the healing required for trauma -- racial, sexual, war-related, intergenerational, and even genetically coded. All trauma requires healing that uses mind, body, and soul.
It’s weird to me that so many activists quote this book that tells us we must be BOTH pro black and pro police. 1/3 of the book is like about how police should do yoga, put black children on their laps, and the like to live up to their potential as community hero’s. At the same time he doesn’t completely skim over our current reality either, but it’s very inconsistent across the book in terms of the view of police officers and culture change that we get.
Does anyone really think cops are the primary readers of books on unpacking somatic anti blackness? There are whole chapters on anti racist self care for cops where they could exist for teachers, nurses or literally anyone else....? There’s more in this book about the importance of cops taking bubble baths and applying essential oils than there is a deep explanation of trauma recovery exercises. Im in the minority of finding it much less revelatory or informative as many others.
There’s useful breathing and visualizations in here that I intend to work with more regularly to my best ability. None of the self care mechanisms really shocked me, but with more work maybe we’ll see. Ugh.
Sách hay và hữu dụng, tiếp cận chữa lành theo một góc nhìn mới, đưa ra cách diễn giải sâu sắc đối với vấn đề da trắng thượng đẳng và phân biệt chủng tộc, và những vấn đề xã hội nhức nhối khác ở Mỹ như nạn cảnh sát bạo hành và chấn thương xuyên thế hệ. Sách cũng có những bài tập cụ thể để thực tập việc tự chữa lành cho chính mình, hỗ trợ chữa lành với những người thân thiết, và chữa lành cho cả cộng đồng hoặc nền văn hoá. Có những bài tập khá giống với các bài tập thiền và thực hành chánh niệm trong đạo Phật.
Sách này khá là nổi trong mấy năm gần đây, mùa hè nhiều thời gian hơn mới có dịp đọc hết. 4 sao vì tác giả ở đoạn cuối sách có những bình luận hơi kiểu cao ngạo và kiêu căng, làm trải nghiệm đọc để lại dư vị hơi khó chịu.
Ooh, wow, this book is kind of a mess. I can't in good conscience recommend it... there's just so much that felt very "off" to me. I definitely DO NOT recommend reading it if you're in favor of abolishing the police. The author's brother is a cop and the author seems to make a living doing various "trainings" with cops. There are some really wild suggestions in the book... the author suggests community organizers cozy up to cops and actually offer to WASH THEIR FEET. He also talks about how cops should get kids in the community to sit on their laps... all this stuff about "kinder, gentler, more PC" policing. Sigh. (I'm not going to go into a full abolitionist rant here but please look into it/contact me if you want to learn more.) As much as the author superficially suggests that individuals are responsible for their own actions/healing, I also feel like he absolves a lot of blame here... with regards to both cops and white people. (I also disliked how he kept referring to people as "bodies" like "police bodies" and "red and yellow bodies." Yuck. They’re all people! Humans.) And some of the advice to white people is also very bizarre. He literally says if you're a white woman named Betty you might think of changing your name to "Rosa Parks." WHAT.
There's a bit of decent info on trauma and dealing/working through it, but honestly it's pretty superficial and I've read much better (more in depth, more helpful) books on trauma. I did like the parts where the author talks about things people can do in groups to ground or "settle" like group singing, humming, etc. I liked the idea of doing this in groups and am thinking about doing it more with the kids I work with.
What impressed me most about 'My Grandmother's Hands', was how well author Resmaa Menakem tackled the controversial topic that is racism. He was made no accusations, and doesn't lecture the reader. He isn't saying that all white people are racist or all black people are distrustful. What he suggests – rather convincingly – is that racial prejudice can be carried within our bodies, caused by the traumatic experiences of those that came before us. I loved how personal and insightful this book was, it has the capacity to change a lot of lives. The experiences of the generations before us, may have marked our souls, but we don't have to pass that mark onto the next generation.
Required reading for class. I might be the only person in my cohort who isn't gaga over this book.
I do appreciate the author's points that (1) racial trauma is intergenerational and real; (2) trauma healing begins with the body; (3) collective healing begins with individuals who are settled in their bodies. These points are not explored or illuminated in any depth, however. They are just repeated over and over in reference to "white bodies," "Black bodies," and "police bodies" in America.
And I'll just say this: as an Asian American, I'm tired of reading books/articles that define US race relations in terms of black-white binaries. Other people of color exist and matter and care in this country, and we too have roles to play in the healing of individual and collective trauma.
We exist. We matter. We care. We deserve to be addressed in your books.
Trauma is held in the body. And many (including me) believe that all Americans carry in our bodies the incredible trauma of the past four hundred years of American history, whether unconsciously or not. In this generous book, Resmaa Menakem, MSW, gives reader a context for this trauma, and a pathway to mend it, through the body. His background as a practitioner trained in Somatic Experiencing offers a rich layering of understanding that I found immediately helpful. I learned a great deal from this book, especially from the practices you are required to do before continuing. In one practice, you simply imagine someone sitting across from you with their arms crossed in front of their body, a scowl on their face. I sat in bed, reading, totally relaxed, and consciously safe. As I visualized this person, I felt as if worms were literally crawling up by shoulders and neck. The creep of tension was completely out of my control. I was left with more of a visceral awareness of my autonomic nervous system and curious about the constant tension in bodies that are perpetually watched, and on the watch, blamed, and blaming, hated, and hating. I strongly recommend this book, and would love to have a discussion with anyone else who wants to talk.
The author knows about trauma and trauma therapy. He has also experienced racism. However, he decided not to research racism and issues surrounding it, but relying only on his personal experience and popular notions. If he had stuck to what he knows, he could have written a shorter and more effective book.
As it stands, he wrote a book that excuses white people from their responsibility in white supremacy social systems by individualizing racism as an epigenetic history of biological trauma. Poor, misunderstood white supremacists are suffering their own trauma that must be healed. Changing laws, systems, policies, and so forth are useless; however, black Americans be patient for a multigenerational, abstract, metaphorical culture change. Perhaps, the author should have consulted some current works on cultural anthropology before making claims about changing the "culture". Of course, it fits his pattern, where he writes about history without consulting actual works by historians, thus writing invented histories based on his imaginative rememberings of stories he's heard.
My advice is, if you are interested in learning more about racial issues and overcoming racism, pick up a different book.
While I have to admit that I did not do any of the body exercises, I absolutely loved this book. I listened to Resmaa's interview with Krista Tippett and was blown away by his insights about racial trauma and the body. It seems so right to me and the book was just really good in showing how one might help heal that. It's not a scientific book, but you can read "the body keeps the score" as a background text with some of the more scientific background, but this book is meant to be acted on and I think it's essential reading for anyone and everyone. At least you should listen to the On Being podcast interview.
This book is fine I guess....it raises alot of important questions about how to heal from trauma which are def worthwhile, but also at one point he suggests that white people can fight white supremacy by naming their kids after black Civil rights leaders and idkkkkk about that. Plus it's very police need better training. So read with a grain of salt
How are you still doing the work of dismantling racism? . My summer of learning comes to a close, and on Monday, I begin a school year marked by remote teaching. So I couldn't be happier with my last book of the summer. Since this book is on backorder just about everywhere, I had to settle for the audiobook.
Ever since hearing Resmaa Menakem in conversation with Krista Tippett for her *on being* podcast (twice!), I knew I had to read this book. Menakem proposes that we'll not achieve racial healing and cultural change with solely cognitive understandings or political/activist strategy. It is through achieving a "settling" within our bodies that we can personally and collectively heal/break the cycle of generational trauma. And this has SO MANY implications for teaching; teachers CAN be healers and CAN create classroom culture that is safe, healthy, and inclusive.
I've spent my entire life trying to feel comfortable in my body, and I'm still getting there. Fiction books about trauma often get under my skin (in the best possible way)and can be like a balm when couched with depictions of love and healthy relationships. What Menakem offers here that works so well in conjunction with that literature is a reminder that we are bodies as well as minds, *even when we read.* And in most situations, we are bodies first.
On Monday I meet my students virtually. But I plan to integrate meditation and mindfulness and some of Menakem's breathing techniques every week--poetry one day, mindfulness the other. If you are able to get your hands on a physical copy of this book, you are in luck! I recommend the print version for all the mindfulness exercises, which I'm bound to return to often. The audiobook was still pretty great and you get instant access, and this is urgent content.
This book tried to be all things to all people, and ultimately ended up being no things to no people. It's simultaneously addressed to Black people, white people, and police officers (which one of these is not like the other?). And its central thesis is "hurt people hurt people", the idea being that white people are racist because they carry trauma from violence inflicted upon them generations ago. But he doesn't share enough legitimate information about epigenetics or neuroscience or trauma to convincingly make that case. Instead, the book is a mixture of stuff about racism everyone knows and breathing/body exercises (to heal the trauma). Overall, while it's important to know racism inflicts trauma upon Black people, I'm not convinced that the trauma lens is a useful one for understanding why white people are racist. People would be better off reading a book that analyzes racism in terms of economic and social structures (I get that's not his realm of expertise but it's a more useful way of thinking about the issue).
i'd heard wonderful things about this book from my friends who are social workers and therapists, which made me all the more disappointed when i realized this was not going to be the book for me. i appreciated reading resmaa menakem's wisdom about somatic healing and the ways that trauma and resilience manifest in our bodies. however, i did not enjoy the fatphobia or apologia for police, and i didn't realize that a significant chunk of the book would be spent discussing the trauma of white folks and police. personally, i am not interested in reading about these topics. i also don't know how i feel about the emphasis on white supremacy and structural racism as, primarily, trauma responses and epigenetics within (white) individuals. moreover, i found the writing in this book to be repetitive - particularly in part 1, where we're frequently told what we are about to be told in ensuing chapters. that being said, i enjoyed learning the somatic and grounding strategies that menakem teaches throughout the book.
I wanted to like this but felt complicated about many things. I appreciate the idea of people being responsible for their own reactions especially when those reactions cause harm. And the ideas behind white body supremacy and white helplessness and how Black folks are taught to soothe white folks in order to stay safe seems like an important one. The practices were also valuable.
The lack of acknowledgement of systemic oppression was disappointing to me especially when talking about the police. Community policing is harmful if the systems that uphold the current police system are not changed. I also feel weird about the idea that the police are a community/culture.
The idea that losing weight will make one less reactive is fat phobic/harmful and does not seem to be based on any sort of truth except for the readers opinion.
The idea of dirty pain and clean pain feels gross to me and fails to acknowledge that healing is compicated and slow going and it's not so black and white. It felt like a lot of the explanations in this books were quite black and white and lacked compassion for the ways in which people have learned to process their trauma and how unlearning that can be a very hard and complicated process and is not as simple as just meditating or singing. I much preferred "the politics of trauma" for exploring ways to heal and be accountable somatically while also understanding that it's not easy and the experience can look all kinds of ways depending on a person's experience.
I know a lot of folks loved this book and I'd love to be able to honour what is valuable and leave the rest, but I found it to be a tricky read. I wanted more nuance and more acknowledgment of that the police have caused harm and we can't just make it better by "washing their feet" 😬. I do think teaching police to be in touch with their nervous systems is important. But I think abolishing the police is more important. Therepautic interventions are not going to fix it. I'm going to reflect more on the take aways of this book but overall it just didn't land for me.
I hope that it can maybe be a palatable introduction for folks that have never considered these ideas before. And I've seen this book start many important and interesting conversations but overall it's not one I would reccomend.
Would recommend this book to everyone who reposted that quote on insta about the trauma white people hold in a white supremacist society, therapists, and anyone who liked the body keeps the score (so therapists). Really I would recommend this book to everyone I know, if they were willing to read it.
I think this book provided a really nuanced view of racial and intergenerational trauma, and the trauma of living in our unhealthy society for a variety of different populations (white, black, and police). I can definitely see how some people may criticize this book for the frame of white trauma and police trauma, thinking about how this plays into false white fragility. However, I really think that the author speaks on white fragility frequently throughout the book and is just holding space for both and, for nuance, and he does so with accountability for white people and police officers. We all come to each moment with all the moments we’ve experienced in the past, and the experiences we’ve metabolized from our ancestors, so I think that’s a frame we do need to look at. And if it’s too off-putting to read those chapters (I didn’t find it so), I think you could gain a lot by skipping those chapters and reading only the chapters focusing on people of color.
Excellent trauma-informed analysis of antiBlack racism & healing
This book was a great and informative read. I appreciated the approach of using trauma-informed practices to understand how racial healing is most likely only possible once everyone engages in the process of “clean pain” vs. “dirty pain.”
I like reviews that have pull-out quotes from the book folks have just finished. With this book, I flagged so many quotes, I would've almost been transcribing chapters at a time -- so I'll just share my review!
This powerful book is part educational experience, part healing journey. It is written by a Black cis-male therapist, Resmaa Menakem, who has expertise in helping people heal from trauma. The main focus is that the trauma caused by racism goes back generations and lives in our bodies; therefore, the only way forward toward healing is to deal with that trauma. (This is a REALLY watered-down summary; he is/does much more than this, and the book is about much more as well).
Mr. Menakem specifically addresses people with three types of bodies in this book: Black bodies, white bodies, and police bodies (independent of other characteristics/skin color). Even though he specifies when he is talking to any one of these groups of people, he encourages all readers to read all chapters. This, to me, was an invaluable part of the process of this book.
He also includes some activities that I strongly urge anyone who reads this book to do. As a white person, I struggled at first with the concept of how racism would live in my white body, as I have not suffered from it. What became so clear to me, however, is that the trauma of the history of white bodies perpetuating the harshest, most inhumane forms of racism absolutely lives in our bodies -- as does the ways in which our present-day commissions of micro aggressions and reinforcement of white supremacy, and the trauma that our presence as white-bodied people can cause BIPOC just by existing. If we as white-bodied people want to show up more completely and effectively as allies and in proactively working to be anti-racist and pro-equality, we have our own healing to do.
This book does not center whiteness; far from it. My review is speaking to the impact of the book on me as a white-bodied person because that is one of my identities and realities. Everyone's experience will be unique to them. For that and so many other reasons, I strongly recommend this book no matter your body or your experiences living in it.
This adds such an important somatic lens for anti-racist conversations and work. I highly recommend this book for white people, as the exercises and suggestions helped me feel out the white supremacy my body holds and figure out regular practices that can help weaken or release it.
However, this book only covers anti-Black racism coming from white people and police officers. Anti-indigenous racism is such a central experience for white people in America, it feels incomplete to not address its role in white body supremacy, but since the author is Black, it makes sense that he's speaking to what he knows (though it would have been that much more powerful to co-author with an Indigenous person). And while the book has chapters for Black readers, non-Black POC aren't addressed in this book.
Resmaa Menakem is also pretty tight with police in his life, with his brother being an officer and a lot of his own work being with the Minneapolis Police Department. While I sympathize that police officers are also human beings and it's essential that someone does the work of making them less harmful, I'm not as hopeful as the author that the institution of policing can be reformed. One of his tips was to smile and greet police officers at protests and marches, with the reasoning that they'll be less likely to brutalize protesters if we can calm their nervous systems through these interactions. I see that logic, but I also think it's complicated for white people to do that at BLM actions.
There were definitely some other suggestions that I found a little odd - like white people renaming themselves after civil rights figures as a way of committing to a healthier white identity. I think if a white person I knew renamed themselves Rosa Parks Smith, I would find it off-putting and performative.
But overall, despite our political (and perhaps generational?) differences, I still recommend that white people in particular read this, as I haven't read anything else that looks at whiteness in quite this way.
This is one of those books where you are one person prior to reading it, and another person once you’ve finished reading it. The kind of book that crawls inside you and stays there. Is there anything more important than doing the inner & outer work needed to live in right community on this planet? I don’t think so. Read this book. We all need you to.
(Note: not as radical as I’d like / some cop apologizing and fat phobia. Gave it 5 stars because I want folks to read it but pls note those disclaimers.)
Was super disappointed in this book because I had really high hopes for it. TLDR, I don't recommend, and am absolutely looking sideways at the coworker who recommended it.
The premise, that white supremacy causes trauma, that trauma manifests in the body, and that trauma is intergenerational, was what excited me about this book. Pretty immediately I realized that I fundamentally disagree with the author on their understanding of policing and how to address the issue of police violence (aka, policing). The author would mention that the history and origin of policing is slave patrols and the oppression of Black people, but still think that "Over the past two decades, the nature of policing in many American communities has changed from protect, serve, and keep the peace to control, arrest, and shoot. Cops who used to walk beats now cruise them in police cars (116)" (for reference, his brother is a cop and he refers to himself as a "law abiding citizen" so.... yuck. He consistently uses the language of "white bodies, Black bodies, and police bodies" which is just absurd. The majority of my highlighted sections were pro-police passages that were just so ridiculous to me. Recommendations for "police bodies" to heal their trauma include "as part of your patrol, hang out at the corner park for a few minutes to chat with people and pet their dogs. Or, when you see a group of kids dancing, pull over and dance with them. If you don’t know the dance, ask them to teach you (221)" -- with no acknowledgement that Black people and people of color may not want to teach a cop to dance or chat with you, and that a cop approaching them could be extremely stressful. They recommend that event organizers: "As part of a march, have everyone smile, nod, and make brief eye contact with each police officer as they pass them. (240)" -- imagine asking people who may have very valid fear and traumatic experiences with police to smile and make eye contact with police officers, as if that is their responsibility. His chapters on how police can reform and self-care (literally, many of his suggestions are "self-care") their way to not murdering and causing violence against Black communities state that "This isn’t about pointing fingers and calling cops racist. It’s about training your officers to do their jobs better—and to avoid needlessly hurting or killing someone".... but never questions why a job that inherently has the option to "needlessly hurt or kill someone" should continue to exist.
His few chapters that provide breathing and grounding exercises are helpful, but 1) I cannot divorce the rest of his harmful perspective from these suggestions and 2) you can find information on those breathing and grounding exercises elsewhere without subjecting yourself to pro-cop and policing rhetoric.
I also disagree with his premise that "Healing with other human beings requires us to respect, regard, and be in harmony with other bodies. Black, white, and police bodies all need to learn to be more comfortable and settled with one another. (181)" It is never the duty of the oppressed to "be comfortable" with their oppressors. The focus on the individual body, or healing the collective of individual bodies, places all too much focus on the individual rather than the system. Yes, a mass of individuals changing their beliefs and actions can have greater change, but it is unfathomable to put any burden of dismantling white supremacy on anybody but white people. This focus on the individual body is why his sections on how white bodies can heal their trauma to end white body supremacy includes "naming your children after Black people you admire like Rosa Parks" and "go to spaces with lots of Black people like African restaurants" rather than something like "reparations for Black people to reduce one aspect of continued retraumatization, e.g. food, housing, economic instability or insecurity" and why the focus is on police healing their trauma so that they don't accidentally "go into a fight or annihilate response" when interacting with Black people rather than changing it so a whole class of people do not have the systemic ability to annihilate.
"Efforts to dissolve white-body supremacy do not (and should not) focus on taking anything away from white people. Instead, they focus on extending white Americans’ rights, privileges, and opportunities to people of all colors, so that all Americans get to enjoy them in equal measure. (272)" -- this was so, to put it plainly, stupid. White people's rights, privileges, and opportunities exist only because of oppression of Black people and people of color. You are, fundamentally, not able to extend those privileges to the people intrinsically excluded from them.
It really sucks because again, I had high hopes for this book. I forced myself to finish it because I needed to know what nonsense he would say about police self care and to see if the book ever redeemed itself. The few small nuggets of truth about intergenerational and racialized trauma (the only reason that this book is not 1 star -- BARELY) are completely overshadowed and poisoned by the rest of the book. And, to top it all off, he was definitely fatphobic (suggesting losing weight, dieting, and exercising -- that "excess weight" means your body may not be healthy or resilient) as part of his suggestions for a self care and "growth routine".
One of the few quotes I highlighted that wasn't out of bewilderment: "Our bodies have a form of knowledge that is different from our cognitive brains. This knowledge is typically experienced as a felt sense of constriction or expansion, pain or ease, energy or numbness. Often this knowledge is stored in our bodies as wordless stories about what is safe and what is dangerous. The body is where we fear, hope, and react; where we constrict and release; and where we reflexively fight, flee, or freeze. (5)"
White supremacy damages all of us and historical trauma is real, full stop. I appreciate the authors dedication to healing trauma. But the author collapses incredibly complex physiological processes, epigenetics, neuroscience, cognitive bias theory, etc into one messy text. Terms like “clean pain,“ and “dirty pain“ do not help.
Very strange how he categorizes the three main targets of this book into white bodies and black bodies (fair) and then…police bodies?!
Trauma is real and affects the body (and changes gene expression) but I don’t think it’s a stretch to call quite a bit of this pseudoscience. I do not wish to diminish the way he thinks we should heal (because somatic healing is so important), but the theory is messy and misleading, ESPECIALLY to the lay person.
Also it’s quite disturbing how he individualizes systemic problems. His solution to white supremacy and police brutality are essentially to do somatic exercises. He has wonderful exercises in the book but these are not comprehensive solution. I hope I’ve misunderstood all of this because this book is a huge disappointment.
essential for all somatics practitioners & antiracist organizers & activists! this book is a true gem: beautifully & accessibly organized, clear, and kind but firm. there are many solo & group practices to work with, and some key insights into what makes culture & how culture shifts. i also especially appreciated the ancestral history of whiteness: the reality that settlers arrived on these stolen lands with deep trauma from watching the white ruling class torture the underclasses throughout the middle ages & beyond. the ties to Empire & colonization here could have been a bit stronger.
my main critiques are that it somewhat erases non-Black POC in its white/Black/blue bodies schema, it doesn’t deal with ongoing colonial genocide of indigenous people & theft of indigenous land, and it is firmly in the police reform camp, which was jarring to me as a committed abolitionist & somatics practitioner who otherwise was very aligned with menakem’s project.
My Grandmother's Hands is the best book I read in 2020. After George Floyd was killed blocks from the high school where I teach, a group. of teachers decided to read this together and discuss several chapters at a time. This book taught me more than any other book I read this year surrounding racialized violence and trauma. I highly recommend this book. I'm keeping to revisit and reread and to remember all that I've learned and will continue to learn. Resmaa Menakem, thank you for writing this book. As an abuse survivor, your lessons resonated deeply with me.