“Although the connections are not always obvious, personal change is inseparable from social and political change.” ~ Harriet Lerner
After the mass murder that happened in my hometown of Newtown, CT, at the end of 2012, I wanted to help so I joined with a group of helping, healing professionals to learn EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique, aka “tapping”).
What I remember most about that effort was one simple, yet profound, directive:
Acknowledge your own traumas.
Do the work to heal yourself first.
Take responsibility for it (and don’t mistake this for blaming or shaming yourself).
At first I was a little embarrassed because I thought I was there to help others. I thought I was going to be helping the people of Newtown heal. But no, what we did, mostly, was work on our own stuff as we learned the techniques.
And there was A LOT for me to acknowledge and A LOT for me to take responsibility for.
All the trainings, all the coaching, all the workshops, all the various therapies (some traditional and some not-so-traditional), have shown me that the adage is true: it starts within and the more of us who choose to look within and heal what’s there is infinitely more powerful than “trying to help” from an unhealed place. Not that any of us are ever 100% healed.
It’s from this place that we can then lead.
Resmaa Menakem says it will take nine generations for us to dismantle racism. It starts with understanding and repairing trauma on individual and collective levels. His free five-part course on racialized trauma is an excellent place to start.
In the third video he talks about white body trauma. He talks about how part of the reason white people struggle with addressing racism is that many of us don’t have stamina and humility around race – and conversations about race – to do anything about dismantling it. And we feel helpless, or we tune out and shut down. These are, in and of themselves, trauma responses.
As I listened, I made the connection between what we were doing in Newtown all those years ago, and what is required now. What has been required all along.
Stamina and humility.
Both of which I did not have at the time. Both of which I am still cultivating and growing in myself. Both of which are non-negotiable.
When I started to heal the relationship I have with my mother and the relationship I have with myself, I considered myself a good white woman. Not racist. Now I understand that’s not enough, not by a long shot.
And not only that, I AM racist. As a white, upper-middle class Boomer woman named Karen who lives in the U.S., I have amazing amounts of privilege.
And like many other white women like me, I have walked though life believing I was helpless and naive around what to do when it comes to the atrocities that black humans face every day and have faced every day since the U.S. came into being. Being fearful of doing it wrong, of saying the wrong thing, of being called out, of being shamed.
For a long while, what I was doing was simply an effort to be patted on the head. To be validated and liked by black women.
And so I do my work. I lean into the conversations that make me uncomfortable. I acknowledge, take responsibility for, and heal my own shame over and over and over again. As many times as it takes because I know feeling shame, feeling helpless won’t get done what needs to be done.
The human experience, over millennia, has been largely shaped by fear, shame, and control.
We’re recognizing that, yeah, it’s not serving us any more. Being ashamed of being white doesn’t help. It perpetuates trauma.
Unresolved, ongoing trauma isn’t going to take us where we want to go.
How we choose to heal individually is how we will heal collectively.
Do your work, white women. The resources are vast. Avail yourself of them (a partial list below).
Much, much love,
Reveal patterns. Heal shame. Transform legacies.
Inner Field Trips with Leesa Renee Hall.
Anti-racism resources for white people.
This video by Rachel Rodgers.
Follow Rachel Cargill on Instagram.
The work of Brené Brown
This video by Trevor Noah.
Cultural Somatics Racialized Trauma Course.
This blog post by Katie Anthony.
75 Things White People Can Do To For Racial Justice