How do we navigate revelations of systemic racism?

For the past month, since the murder of George Floyd, my inbox and social feeds began filling up with messages of solidarity from any organization I’d ended up on a mailing list for. It numbed me into a silence, even though I get the message that silence is violence, that silence is complicity, that silence has given injustice permission to breathe, to breed, to continue without accountability. The media turned their spotlight onto these stories, and expanded to include systemic racism against indigenous people, particularly in Canada, and after ignoring these stories for years, for decades, has been actively turning up video cam footage of police brutality, of systemic racism, of achingly hurtful and harmful things.

When I opened myself to the truths that were being pushed up into the public consciousness, I personally wasn’t “standing in solidarity.” I was cowering, I was feeling an inkling of the horror, of all that I have been blind to, how can people have been living like this,  all this time, under the weight of systemic racism, the grinding oppression. Just a glimpse of it feels unendurable. I wasn’t standing. I was stumbling. I was feeling very small. And very quiet.

Where have I been? What have I been doing? How have I been contributing?

And frankly, I have been feeling scared of the pushback, of the response that this upsurge of protests and stories and call-outs against racism might trigger in people who don’t want to be confronted with these things, who don’t have any tolerance for pain or discomfort or a rewriting of their narratives of good and bad. Will the pushback be even more damaging and dangerous?

How do we square all these revelations, how do we experience the outrage, how do we navigate this all, and integrate it into our daily lives (which are filled with the necessary banalities of making breakfast and doing the dishes and getting to work)?

These are things I have been wondering about, and it’s kept me quiet, mulling and rumbling and reading and listening, reluctant to just add to noise, when the world is awash in constant shouting and my nervous system, frankly, already feels pretty under siege.

This week, I have permission to share some thoughtful posts that were written by people in our communities… with the hopes that this will contribute to heartfelt, constructive, genuine dialogue, and continue to move us towards right relationship with each other, with history, with justice.

Today, I want to share one of the most helpful and elucidating conversations I’ve heard on the topic – an interview at On Being with author, therapist and  trauma specialist, Resmaa Menakem – you can read it at the link, or listen to it (as I did, and that was most worthy because Menakem’s voice is really so expressive and wonderful. His words landed in my body. And went to work there.)

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“All of us carry the history and traumas behind everything we collapse into the word “race” in our bodies.”

Menakem shares so much amazing wisdom about the body, about how our bodies work, how our bodies inherit trauma,  how the experience of racialization is not only embedded in our systems, but also in our own bodies, our genetic memories, and how, unless we, the privileged ones, the white-bodied ones, learn how to be with discomfort, unless we understand what it means to be in a white body, in a world of white body supremacy, we will continue to be perpetrators of violence and injustice – intentional or not.

Menakem expresses all these things in the most wonderful, generous, generative, provocative way… not by sugarcoating anything at all, but by saying, come into your body and pay attention to what’s going on. We need to heal our nervous systems of generations of trauma, from the Dark Ages, from all the wounds that terrorized our ancestors and led them to colonize and Other others.

It’s a massive reframe. And I found it much more helpful than the more binary or adversarial take that most media is built around ( — good guys and bad guys and lots of shouting and guns, really, are we here all over again?)

I came out of this listening experience with a sense that our different experiences are valid. That recognizing each other’s stories and pain doesn’t cancel anyone out. But that we can and must do the work, “do the reps”, as Menakem says, to work through our discomfort so we can re-make the world into one that honours all beings, all bodies. No supremacy. All sovereignty.

Would love to hear your thoughts, if you explore it.


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