Healing from the Violence of White Supremacy

Lotus flower opening. Photo by author.

What more can I say about this month’s siege of the U.S. Capitol by white supremacists that you haven’t already heard from journalists, writers, and elected officials? I am tempted to share my outrage and anger but those emotions have already been strongly reverberated on media outlets and social media so I don’t feel the need to contribute more. I’m interested in offering something else. I want to explore how we can metabolize what happened in a way that creates a pathway for healing using my own experience.

Oppression is a process of estrangement and one of the first things oppression estranges us from is our very own bodies. Our bodies are often the site of violence, especially for people with marginalized identities, but a supremacist society conditions us to dismiss the signals that our bodies send us to let us know that we are hurting. With our somatic awareness suppressed, we become less able to process our violent experiences and heal, and the unresolved energies eventually transmute into trauma. I grew up being taught to suppress unpleasant emotions like sadness, grief, and anger, and subsequently I forgot how to listen to my body. It took years of working with a somatic therapist for me to unlearn a lot of internalized oppression and remember how to pay attention to my body. This remembrance allowed me on the day of the insurrection to maintain awareness of what was going on in my body as I witnessed on TV the violent mob taking over the capitol building. My body was tense. My stomach was pins and needles. My pupils were constricted. I noticed these sensations and knew what was happening. My body thought I was in physical danger, specifically racial danger. Growing up in the U.S. as a racialized Asian person has exposed me to countless racial microaggression and sometimes overt, physical aggression. My body has learned to be hypervigilant, staying ever alert for the threat of white assault on my Asian body. My body recognized the violence on TV and it started to feel deeply afraid even though my mind took longer to come to the same realization. As a person of color, I did not have the privilege of only feeling shock and outrage, which I did feel, but I also felt profoundly endangered. I had trouble leaving my home for the rest of the week.

Liberation starts with getting reacquainted with our bodies, which while being the site of much violence, are also the source of healing. I tapped into the healing intelligence of my body. Instead of telling myself that I should not feel angry or afraid, I gave myself full permission to feel angry and afraid. I honored those feelings by carving out space and time to feel them deeply. The counter-intuitive truth I have learned about bodies after years of practicing somatics is that as soon as our bodies believe they have been heard, they will let go of whatever feelings they are holding onto. I also gave my body lots of time to rest. Work was not going to come first. I follow the wisdom of Nap Bishop Tricia Hersey, who explains that when white supremacy culture wants us in a constant state of urgency, learning to rest is an act of resistance. I am learning to live in the fullness of my being, rather than in a state of inadequacy, of not-enough-ness. Giving my body all the care that it needed enabled me to metabolize the violence I was witnessing and eventually recover to a state of wholeness and Buddhic peace.

Healing starts with our individual bodies and it must also occur on the level of society. In this arena, healing requires truth and accountability. I am reminded of Senator Lindsey Graham who tweeted after the insurrection took place that Congress should forego the idea of a second impeachment so that the nation can heal. The irony and hypocrisy of his statement is laughable, but it is actually representative of what so many white people believe — that racial healing and reconciliation can occur without white people acknowledging and taking accountability for the legacy of racial harm. President-elect Biden asks the nation to unite, but makes no pathway for our nation to talk about Wednesday’s attempted coup, which continues a long line of white people asking society to come together without acknowledging the past. White people ask Black people to move on from slavery even though the United States government has never atoned for its sin and attempted reparations. White people want to uphold the myth of Thanksgiving and harmony with Native people when America has not apologized for genocide, land dispossession, and boarding schools. White people claim to be color-blind, never bring up race, and want everyone to just “get along” when the police clearly see race every time they terrorize Black and brown communities. Martin Luther King Jr. explained that there can be no peace without justice. All relationships in conflict and abusive relationships, from those between individuals to those between the state and its people, need a full accounting of the harm done before any reconciliation and healing can occur. If this nation is to truly heal, we must all participate in a process of talking about things that have happened and taking accountability for them.

While the insurrection was traumatizing to watch, I am reminded of my American privilege by my husband, who grew up in a country that was under a twenty-year dictatorship that the United States helped put in place. American presidents, both Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, have orchestrated CIA-backed and military-backed coups in other countries that have led to the destruction of democratic governments and the rise of dictatorships. This months’ attempted coup by Donald Trump should not be shocking. The only difference was that a U.S. president tried it on his own people. Americans experienced for the first time a glimpse of what the United States has been doing to other countries for decades. In order for us to heal, our truth and accountability process must also take into account this aspect of American history.

Writing at the intersection of ecology, social justice, art, and magic.

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