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My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Mending of Our Bodies and Hearts
by Resmaa Menakem


My Grandmother's Hands explores the concept of racialized trauma and offers a body-centered approach to healing, arguing that white supremacy is ingrained not just in our minds but also in our bodies.

Key Arguments:

  • Trauma is embodied: Trauma is not just an emotional response but a physical, visceral experience that gets stored in our bodies and nervous systems.
  • White-body supremacy is a trauma response: The author argues that white-body supremacy, a system of dominance that benefits white people, is rooted in centuries of intergenerational trauma passed down from medieval Europe. This trauma manifests in white bodies as a reflexive fear of Black bodies, often leading to harmful actions.
  • Black bodies bear the brunt of racialized trauma: The book details the systematic oppression and violence inflicted upon Black people throughout American history, resulting in a legacy of deep, pervasive trauma in Black bodies.
  • Police bodies are also affected: Law enforcement professionals, regardless of race, often experience vicarious trauma from witnessing violence and trauma. The book explores how this trauma, coupled with the ingrained fear of Black bodies, contributes to police brutality.
  • Healing is essential: Menakem emphasizes the importance of healing from racialized trauma, both individually and collectively. He argues that healing must be body-centered and that a settled, grounded body is key to personal and social transformation.

Key Concepts:

  • Soul Nerve (Vagus Nerve): This nerve plays a crucial role in regulating emotions, connecting the brain to the body, and mediating between activation and resting states.
  • Lizard Brain: The reptilian part of the brain responsible for survival and protection, which can override the thinking brain during perceived threats.
  • Trauma Response: The body’s automatic protective reaction to perceived danger, often manifesting as fight, flight, or freeze.
  • Traumatic Retention: When trauma responses become ingrained in the body and passed down through generations, often appearing as dysfunctional behavior or cultural norms.
  • Clean Pain vs. Dirty Pain: Clean pain is the discomfort that comes from facing difficult truths and growing, while dirty pain is the pain of avoidance, blame, and denial.
  • White Fragility: A state where white people become defensive and intolerant of racial stress, leading to harmful responses.
  • Resilience: The ability to adapt and bounce back from adversity, often rooted in both genetics and social support.

The Book's Approach:

  • Body-Centered Practices: The book offers practical exercises and activities designed to help readers connect with their bodies, release tension, and learn to settle their nervous systems.
  • Historical Context: The author traces the origins of racialized trauma back to medieval Europe, emphasizing how this trauma continues to shape American culture and relationships.
  • Individual and Collective Healing: Menakem advocates for both individual and collective healing, recognizing that personal healing is essential for creating positive change in society.

Overall, My Grandmother's Hands offers a fresh and powerful perspective on race and trauma in America. It challenges readers to move beyond intellectual understanding and engage their bodies in the process of healing.