Somatic practices to uproot internalized racism

In recent weeks, I’ve seen a tense divide in many of the sexual healing communities of which I’m a part. The divide is between those who are explicitly anti-racist and those who choose to remain silent in the face of institutionalized racism. In one Facebook group, a member of color posted a link to a white member’s post that included the phrase “all lives matter” and asked for help in callng this person in. I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the low response rate.

It is not uncommon in therapeutic spaces to find many practitioners whose politics excludes an awareness of systemic oppression. But, as adrienne maree brown, Cara Page, and centuries of badass healer-organizers before them have taught us, healing and social justice are not separate — in fact, they are intrinsically connected. It is necessary that those of us in healing modalities remain dedicated to the work of anti-racism, both on a societal level and within ourselves.

Below you’ll find some somatic tools for uprooting racism from within our bodies. These practices come from my own personal experience; as I say below, we all make mistakes, and I have certainly made my fair share of mine. Each of those mistakes caused harm. Each of those mistakes were also an opportunity for personal transformation. I recommend these tools for therapists, coaches, somatic sex educators, surrogate partners, sexological bodyworkers, acupuncturists, massage therapists, Reiki workers, energy workers, and our clients. A little self reflection and willingness to be with discomfort can go a long way.

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Practices for dismantling racism in our own bodies

    • Notice moments when you think or do something racist and sit with the shame or guilt you feel, rather than trying to push it away. Witness it, acknowledge it, hold it. What do shame and guilt feel like in your body? What colors, textures, temperatures do they bring up? In what parts of your body do you feel them? Remember that those feelings are a lesson, an invitation to grow.
    • The best people to turn to when you need guidance in anti-racist learning are friends of your own race. If you’re a white person, don’t ask people of color (especially ones you don’t know or don’t have a trusting relationship with) to educate you — but do listen when they offer their advice! In interracial friendships, be sure to stay attuned to the emotional needs of your friends of color. Always make sure you have empowered consent before asking for support from close friends of a different race; don’t bring up racial violence/police brutality/systemic oppression if that friend needs a break from all the heaviness.
    • Don’t post about race on social media when you’re anxious or activated; it’s a recipe for saying things you regret. Wait till you’ve had time to process and get grounded, and post from a more centered place.
    • That being said, don’t let worries about getting it wrong keep you from speaking up. This is not the time for silence. Desmond Tutu said it perfectly: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
    • We all make mistakes. Part of the work of anti-racism is committing to learning from our mistakes. When you mess up, listen to critical feedback, make room for any defensiveness that comes up (how does it feel in your body – color, texture, temperature?), reflect on the mistake, and allow the learnings to integrate into your body over time. As Rihanna’s tattoo says, “always a lesson, never a failure.”

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