"Somatic Abolitionism": Healing Structural Racism Through Embodied Practice

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Resmaa Menakem

"Somatic Abolitionism": Healing Structural Racism Through Embodied Practice

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What You'll Learn

  • From a somatic psychology perspective, explore how the legacy of racism and “white body supremacy” is held as intergenerational trauma in our personal and collective bodies

  • Learn how we can begin to acknowledge, heal, and transform this intergenerational trauma through embodied practices that activate and train our “Soul Nerve” (or Vagal Nerve)

  • Hear about some of the often unacknowledged history of overtly racist and cruel “experiments” which have been carried out in the name of modern science and listen to Resmaa’s vision for why scientific research must begin with “me-search”

About Resmaa Menakem

Resmaa Menakem, New York Times bestselling author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, is a visionary Justice Leadership coach, organizational strategist and master trainer. A leading voice in today’s conversation on racialized trauma, Resmaa created Cultural Somatics, which utilizes the body and resilience as mechanisms for growth. As a therapist, trauma specialist, and the founder of Justice Leadership Solutions, Resmaa Menakem dedicates his expertise to coaching leaders through civil unrest, organizational change, and community building. Resmaa’s embodied approach which he calls Somatic Abolitionism is a living, embodied philosophy that requires endurance, stamina, and discernment.

About Eve Ekman, PhD

Eve Ekman is a contemplative social scientist focusing on emotional awareness working in health care, wellbeing, and technology. Eve draws from interdisciplinary skills and first-person experiential knowledge from clinical social work, integrative medicine, contemplative science, and meditation. Eve is a Senior Fellow at the University of California Berkeley Greater Good Science Center, Director of Cultivating Emotional Balance Training Program, and volunteer clinical faculty at the UCSF Department of Pediatrics. Eve is a second-generation emotion researcher and has collaborated with her father, Paul Ekman, on the Atlas of Emotions project. Eve shares her dad's deep love of bagels and is a devout practitioner of cold water ocean play.

To learn more about her work you can visit the Atlas of Emotions, an online website for emotional awareness commissioned by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and co-created by Eve and Paul Ekman. You can also learn more about a contemplative science training for learning emotional balance that was founded by Alan Wallace and Paul Ekman and is currently lead by Eve Ekman and a global teacher network at Cultivating Emotion Balance.

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45 Comments

  1. Jennifer May 2, 2021 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    I love this concept of a toy box instead of a tool box! Play and explore rather than fix. I will change my language around this today

    • Ellen May 3, 2021 at 2:59 pm - Reply

      Yes!!

  2. Kyle Sabatino May 2, 2021 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    I was harassed over a minor auto incident, and the chief of police threatened me, a middle-age white woman, with untruths. I realize recently, that he probably would not have did this to a white man AND I never worried about my safety. Didn’t even think about it until recently What a white entitlement. Listening and learning.

  3. Monica May 2, 2021 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Very inspiring 👏

  4. Asantewaa May 2, 2021 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    Resmaa,
    After getting my 2nd Pfizer vaccine, I said that I would hope there would be a “Racism” vaccine that folks would take to save their lives.

  5. Asantewaa May 2, 2021 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    We had a project called “Setting An Anti-Racist Table”.

    anti-racist-table.weebly.com

  6. Marlis L Lambson May 2, 2021 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Sir, I wish I could have introduced you to my parents and both sets of grandparents, may their souls be peaceful. Two generations of people who grew up with ideas and beliefs that today we are still suffering with and from, and yet . . . And yet, they didn’t like it and when my brother and I were learning from them, many things stand out. One of which is my parents making us watch the murder of Dr. King and my Dad specifically saying, “Don’t you look away from the TV young lady! You need to feel that pain, too! You watch. You learn. If I ever hear of you treating someone as less than human because of the color of their skin or any other stupid damn reason, you will find out just how angry I really can be. No child of mine is going to grow up treating others as less than themselves. Do not repeat the mistakes of my generation and the generations before me, you hear me?” My grandparents pointing out the beauty of people no matter how they look whether they are filthy and homeless or ridiculously rich and live in a mansion – that the one thing that ties them all together is us, as simple living beings with our own thoughts, emotions, dreams and aspirations. To see their inner light and respect it, never ever put a basket over someone’s light. They referenced that Bible lesson often but it doesn’t matter it came from the Bible, what matters is that they helped me, my brother, and even their kids -our parents- become people who loved, regardless.

  7. Yanela May 2, 2021 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    Dr. Resmaa, do you think that the public lynching of Floyd is part of our “forced way to look at it again and reconnect as a collective to what you described about your grandmother’s experience and the story about her hands; the mutilation of her hands in the process of picking cotton? The scars…. a moment to magnified to the world the pain and the voices that must sustain it to make the visible, be witnessed and Experienced
    Just a thought!

    • Elisa May 3, 2021 at 11:20 am - Reply

      I also used the term public lynching about what happened to Mr Floyd. And the self satisfied look on chauvin’s face only affirms this choice. For me, escluding the fact that i Lives in Los Angeles for the Rodney King Beating Trial riots, and saw that man’s barbarous beating (he lived tho), this was my first clear view of a lynching. Im white. I always feel broken hearted when children and adults are killed by cops. But this was different. No question of a stress-triggered failed perception, misjudgment, however egregious, unwarranted and unjust. This was a lynching by an antiblack man with more authority in the culture who prologued & didnt hide what he was doing, even see,ed quite comfortable & to enjoy the attention. Made me see what lynchers were like. 😡 ☮️ friend may this be a springboard for shedding of trauma due to real social change beginning to advance.

  8. Dr. Carlos Bascuñán de La Cerda May 2, 2021 at 8:09 pm - Reply

    Emotions Are recources, we have to learn to manage how to use It…

  9. Diane Suzuki May 2, 2021 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Resmaa, Thank you for following your “heart/ intuition etc.? which led you to frame what’s going on currently with racialized trauma in an “out of the box” manner. Though Asian American with my own set of challenges which I’ve been exploring for decades – recently with the layering of the murder of the 6 Asian women by a white young man all of this coalesced in my body alongside the effects of the 2nd vaccine. It felt like a giant weight on my body and I couldn’t get up off the ground where I laid down for 4 hours breathing and felt I was purging and threshing all the racist episodes I’ve experienced. I reached out to my community for support and am calling a local support group together. “Been through some stuff.” Thanks for listening.

  10. Jo Lane May 2, 2021 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    Great wisdom, depth and compassion was spoken and shared with us today! It was a joy to listen and also observe the presenters interactions and response to one another’s presentations Thank you all.

  11. lori lindgren May 2, 2021 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    I appreciate the encouragement to do mesearch! Grateful you shared this conversation – let’s continue- thank you.

  12. Talia Green May 3, 2021 at 4:43 am - Reply

    Thank you Reesma, so inspiring and informative. Especially the mentioning of the importance of mesearch and the introduction of toybox versus toolbox were moments of excitement for me. Deep gratitude.

  13. Eric Coker May 3, 2021 at 5:28 am - Reply

    The comment about “real science” struck me. When you say “real” science you are making a claim about what is real, and what right does anyone have to make that distinction on their own (or as an academic community)? Vibes may not be real in an objective sense, but they are certainly real in a subjective, 1st person sense. That said, there is no reason to think we can trust those vibes blindly. Instead, we need to apply a scientific method to them and ask the questions : “what properties do they have?” “how are they related to objective reality?” “how do they behave?” This is no different in kind than Newton asking these questions of, say, sunlight… he had no more of a scientific conceptual framework to understand light that we do vibes. He had to invent one. To say that these questions, regarding vibes, are unscientific, is to fall back on a basic assumption that leads us to throw out many of the pieces of the reality puzzle that we are trying to put together.
    Great conversation.

    • Elisabeth May 3, 2021 at 11:23 am - Reply

      Interesting comment, and i might add, where is the vibe initiating from? What history of experience, emotion & culture is influencing (negative ones)? And can / do we transcend all that when a good vibe is emitted? I think we do, that it comes from thr PFC sourced emotions—positive, unifying, oneness, hopeful, love.

    • kerry fantelli May 4, 2021 at 4:48 am - Reply

      I am a Western medical practitioner and have practiced medicine for over 24 yrs. I have consistently struggled with the approach of Western medicine and science. If you consider the human body/anatomy and physiology and the currents of energy that course through our systems, perhaps the understanding of vibe can be better understood. For instance, we have electrical currents that we emit and receive. Resmaa Menakem calls the vagus nerve the soul nerve for a purpose.
      We have energetic fields that we put out and pick up on. That is how I understand when I receive a vibration from other sentient beings. There is vast research on this subject that ties into ancient traditions that have been passed on generation to generation. I also believe that the more scientific we get, the more disconnected we can become to humanity and what goes deeper than what I was taught in medical school. Perhaps there can be curiosity and exploration that will open to learning and understanding on a different plane. In my years on this earth, I have learned that human beings are filled with artistic mystery and science can only take us so far. I blend my worlds to have a holistic approach and while it is often shunned by my peers, I see significant shifts to how medical students are being trained now and that gives me hope that there will be more holistic approaches to healing and connecting. Curiosity is my super power 🙂

  14. ale May 3, 2021 at 6:34 am - Reply

    Sorry but I’m Italian and I don’t get some words of grandMa’story…why she got big hands? Thank u to traslate me

  15. jasvinder May 3, 2021 at 6:52 am - Reply

    very inspiring…me-search is need of the hour

  16. Jim Musante, LPC May 3, 2021 at 7:21 am - Reply

    Interesting conversation though I found myself lost with a presentation title that infers a basis in the “somatic scientific perspective” but little illumination as to its correlation to emotions (the conference theme), especially in light of many examples that references various forms OTHER then somatic. I heard VIMBAS list two cognitive concepts (I and M), undefined vibes (V), Behaviorism (B), Affect (A) and sensations (S) which seemed the closest to somatic. I appreciated Eve trying to circle back several times to helping to use conventional scientific guidelines to allow the speaker to reference to, but to no avail. So, though I can appreciate that possibly the somatic perspective may hold some scientifically demonstrated and predictive potential for change (the “gold” standard of scientific inquiry), it was not clear to me what that potential is here.

  17. Christine Koehlmeier May 3, 2021 at 8:49 am - Reply

    I was really touched by your talk , a bodyexperience – there is a lot to do, not only in the US Thank you

  18. Sabine May 3, 2021 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Thank you for this interesting interview. Could you please tell me, where there was a part about “embodied practice”? Maybe it is because of a language problem (I am German), I seem to have missed this part. But maybe it was just my expectation? I would love to have at least one example, how I could possibly work on myself – on my inner racism, which I am not aware of – with this “embodied practice”. I practice a lot of “Naikan”, which is me-search in the purest way, but I think this is not meant with embodied practice, right?
    Thank you for your patience:-)

  19. Dr. René Guarnaluse ARce May 3, 2021 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Thanks Dr. Ressmaa, we are talking that emotions are by nature the best models of Psychoneuroendocrineinmmunoenergetic(PNEI-E) manifestations. in a way that there is no way to see this important expression of our behaviour isolated, reduced without ignoring life itself. One almost conventional example in Medicine Books is the “Hypertension of the Blacks”, or nigroes or African Americans. An image seen as a clinical curiosity of some low creatinine event missing the “embodiment” of so much PAST and present HISTORY. Thanks Dr. Ressmaa

  20. Cheryl SG Rush May 3, 2021 at 10:00 am - Reply

    A Link to each speech should be attached so we in the public arena can share on our social media pages to get the information out to the masses of people who truly needs to hear this. If we keep this insulated among ourselves then it only gives us a field of conversation to discuss within our own circles which is good, but not effective in meeting the mass population that needs to incorporate the info into their daily lives.

  21. Christie May 3, 2021 at 10:06 am - Reply

    VIBES… yes, what a powerful contribution to the world of somatic experiencing and emotion. And the decontextualization of trauma and it’s impact on the Black body… brilliant. Really letting the concept of a “mesearch lens” settle… the awareness of the nature of white body supremacy as a collective and how I’m part of this collective white body individually… a body that has been and can be so brutal in so many ways, and is deeply in need of transformation… THANK YOU for your leadership in this area and for bringing Somatic Abolitionism forth to help point us towards meaningful transformation.

  22. Elisa May 3, 2021 at 11:09 am - Reply

    Love the idea of the word toys over tools! Hope i can nurture this in place of tools or skills. Great wisdom in this, attention to connotations…!
    As a white woman from an abusive, authoritarian upbringing that traumatized me, i always have skepticism when hearing from someone like Mr. Menakem, who represent such a firm perspective of one color/race. First of all, his facts about the vaccine were wrong. Other vaccines do use live or dead forms of a virus, but at least most of these in the US do not and are using an all new technique involving RNA.
    As for the onesided approach, i get it. There is a lot of trauma, inter generational trauma, in American blacks due to racist whites and violent cops, from the slave trading days to, alas, today. But there are many blacks who are racist against whites, and not just blacks. Ive been harassed by a variety of Asians , from a korean in Koreatown Los Angelse purposefully denting my car out of spite & a lack of any ampathic ability (at least toward me, white girl at the time), to being followed by a group of young ment throwing pennies at me, in Chinatown, Boston, and the general assumption that i being white must be racist, and that i must change for them. But people all over the world are racist—Chinese, Russians, Belgian, French, Korean, India, & among the Africa countries, etc, against different kinds of people from themselves. Thr Black V White American construct ignores this diversity, is innately divisive, and denies black prejudice/racism. Yes in thr US, whites invaded & took over this country, and others especially natives and blacks brought here as slaves, and their descendants, and immigrants of color, all have to deal with the institutional and cultural racism of a once predominantly white anglosaxon culture. But in other countries, it is reversed. Japan for instance—all non japanese are gaijin, foreigners, and innately inferior. And these racist attitudes perpetuate when they immigrate here.
    I feel it far better for those who can teach and be heard within or without their unique cultures should help and embrace whom they can, without alienating groups and creating divisiveness and inevitable pushback, which can only stretch racist roots deeper. Think of the story of the sun vs the north wind, trying to get the man to remove his coat. Feeling attacked, the man clutches his comforting, warming coat closer. Feeling safe and warm, by the sun, the man relaxes and removes his coat.
    Wouldnt it be more effective to help all people, from where they are at, to understand their own tendencies toward cognitive distortions (racism among them), assumptions, etc, and their innate power to master the selves, and most of all, the innate respectworthiness of ALL human beings, all life even, and the need, desire, to behave accordingly? Forgive me for voicing such a controversial view in this forum, in a time in which all sympathies if any are with nonwhites, and justifiably, perception is negative against white supremacist views. Mine is not that. It is humanist and focused on respect both ways, empathy both ways. Self-reflection & work on individual growth of all parties being needed. Compassion, So many assumptions of black activists are just bias, stereotypes, and as a woman in the group being stereotyped it is uncomfortable and brings out the negative reaction of feeling it is unfair. Im misunderstood, as i always have been, due to my own private history. We all have those! See B Fredrickson’s amazing work that shows when positive emotions are introduced to an experiment, brains shifts from seeing racially different people with the object recognition of the brain to the part that recognizes faces as human, ie, as One of Us. Positive emotion can push us out of fear & into a sense of oneness, not Other.
    Educate without pointing fingers. All need to understand others & black history has been largely concealed. Dont make the white victims of this the responsible parties. Be one with us.
    Eager to hear comments.

    • Claudia May 3, 2021 at 6:54 pm - Reply

      Elisa, I hear how your upbringing was traumatizing which is always heart breaking.
      It is important to recognize that reverse racism doesn’t exist but what does exist is maybe rudeness & abusive behavior….
      https://momentum.medium.com/why-reverse-racism-is-a-myth-c2374b8837af

      • Stephen May 4, 2021 at 7:29 am - Reply

        If “racism” is defined to include socio-economic power issues where it occurs, it seems a poor way to describe anyone’s motivations then. If the same activity/behavior is classified as “prejudice” in the US but “racist” in another country where the power structure is different, that doesn’t seem to help with a global discussion about “racism”.

    • Stephen May 4, 2021 at 7:25 am - Reply

      Elisa,
      “Wouldn’t it be more effective to help all people, from where they are at, to understand their own tendencies toward cognitive distortions (racism among them), assumptions, etc, and their innate power to master the selves, and most of all, the innate respect worthiness of ALL human beings, all life even, and the need, desire, to behave accordingly?” Yes! It makes me sad that you needed to qualify it and apologize for it as a “controversial view”….

  23. Diane Boover May 3, 2021 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    The fact that so many people of all races and cultures have been traumatized reveals just how complex this decontextualization will be and has been. I once took a course with women from all over the world and realized that we sometimes create a “hierarchy” of trauma. I remember when 9/11 happened, some thought that it was about time that the USA suffered some form of trauma. Perhaps this is what brings us together in the way that you mention having to have to suffer together in order to get beneath the skin and/or beyond white skin superiority, or however you put it. Sometimes I think it might be easier than we think because it seems like the whole world is traumatized lately.

  24. Paula May 3, 2021 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    loved this, currently studying to be Focusing Practitioner so his words , so relevant, thanks

  25. Diane Boover May 3, 2021 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    The fact that so many people of all races and cultures have been traumatized reveals just how complex this decontextualization will be and has been. I once took a course with women from all over the world and realized that we sometimes create a “hierarchy” of trauma. I remember when 9/11 happened, some thought that it was about time that the USA suffered some form of trauma since they create so much in the world. Perhaps this is what might have to happen in order to bring us together in the way that you mention having to have to suffer together in order to get beneath the skin and/or beyond white skin superiority. Perhaps it is also time to look at the role of arrogance in human nature and try to be more humble instead. Thanks for some good insights. I just hope it is not that hard and long to have to suffer in order to heal and be free from our worst inclinations.

  26. isabella tacito ianelli May 3, 2021 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    Wow, Resmaa! Greetings from Brazil! So nice to hear you! Your work remind me a lot what Reinaldo Nascimento is doing in Brazil (and in other parts of the world). I hope more and more people can hear you, start a “me-search” and be part of a community right now!

  27. Vanilson R Nunes May 3, 2021 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Mr Resmaa. I’m a Brazilian teacher living in the Southern most state of Brazil. I’m happily married to a african-paraguayan woman and have got 2 kids. Because I’m white-european descendant, great part of my family still look down on me because my wife is black. This is just to give an example of how racism is present in my country. I’ve masmerized by a kind o raise in white supremacists in the whole country, some even cultivating gestures and symbols from the KKK in manifestations in favor of our present president. As a whole there is a false idea and feeling that here in Brazil different races live in harmony. I just wish that one day we realize that we all are unique and different, and that is awesome!

  28. Dr. mary Duryee May 3, 2021 at 8:16 pm - Reply

    Please. Please. Please. Make the material in this conference available longer than 48 hours. It feels impossible to digest in such a short time. It is also very important to make available to people who do not have the luxury of time to listen within that time frame.

    This is wonderful. Just this segment is worthy of longer metabolism.

    Thank you.

  29. Deniece Smith May 3, 2021 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    The toy box is invaluable! So good! Thank you for this!

  30. graham mackay May 4, 2021 at 3:05 am - Reply

    thank you
    i just read this as well – What white people can do next by Emma Dabiri
    https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/131786/emma-dabiri.html
    great companion pieces

  31. alex May 4, 2021 at 4:02 am - Reply

    brilliant. got me thinking about MY grandmother in that aspect!))

  32. Purva Watwe May 4, 2021 at 6:10 am - Reply

    thank you Dr Eve Ekman, for bringing such wonderful brilliant people to us. Your presence and interaction with each one is so different and love the way you bring out the best while what seems like a lively chat. There is so much to Dr Resmaa Menakem.. his work and the community he has created, aspires to create around him to continue the work he has begun….. impressive clarity and expression and honest open hearted sharing……. very thankful for being witness to such brilliant sharing.

  33. Ana Heeren May 4, 2021 at 6:57 am - Reply

    …very thankful for such a rich conversation, based on experience and reality, congratulations! Mesearch, we definitely need it, more and more. Thank you!!!

  34. Dr. Jaya Mohan May 4, 2021 at 11:36 am - Reply

    Thank you for VIMBUS and the Toy Box !! They bring a whole shift in perspective. Mesearch is something that we all require. Gratitude, for drawing our attention to this important process of self – growth.

  35. Adam Taubert May 4, 2021 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    Wow!!! I am so moved by this conversation. As a new SEP and a Wellness Coach (and a man of color – culture), I am so inspired. Thank you both immensely

  36. Mayleen May 4, 2021 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    Thank you Dr Resmaa Menakem for such an awakening conversation that underlined so many conceptual emotions and hidden facts that transcends to this very present moment in time as to how in-depth, traumatic abuse have affected the energies of an entire paradine of people as well as society. Fear have insited more distruction upon unjustified fear. Just hope that the future generations will eagerly pick up the toolbox and grow several steps further applying the principles of me-search.
    Congratulations, keep up the good work . I hope your students and future scientists will acknowledge in support your broader concept to the complexity of these facts and reality.
    Where there is a will, there is also a way.

  37. gabe May 4, 2021 at 3:21 pm - Reply

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