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Including our bodies in Social Justice: Voices that Teach


What if?

Recently I was recently at a vigil to end human detention camps. While standing amidst the crown I started to wonder if any one else’s heart was hurting. Mine certainly was.

If you are aware of the detention camps throughout the United States, inundated with inhumane conditions, not to mention rampant sexual, physical and emotional abuse for children and adults alike, a somatic/visceral/physical response when taking a moment to consider this predicament would be quite appropriate.

If you’re willing, take a moment now to recall what you’ve been reading, watching, and hearing about the detention camps, which are now commonly referred to as concentration camps due to their abhorrent conditions and the violent circumstances in which they exist.

Does it make your heart break open?

Does it make your heart close down?

Do you feel your stomach clench?

Do your hands ball up in fists?

Do you shake your head?

Does your body tighten or shut down a bit?

Do you hold your breath?

Do you feel a surge of adrenaline?

Do you feel a bit frozen?

Does your body want to physically turn away in some way?

Do you want to go into denial?

Any such responses would be valid, appropriate and understandable. Emotions such as sadness, fear, or anger that might come along side the physiological responses would be appropriate, too.

It is natural to feel a bodily response when we are connecting with pain, injustice, and suffering. These responses remind us that we’re human, and connecting with the plight of other humans. These responses tell us that we have the capacity for empathy and compassion. These responses remind us that well-being is important for us, and that love and nurturing is a human necessity.

Back to the Vigil

After the speakers were done, it became time for anyone to speak. I wondered what it would be like if we could get real about what we were feeling. What might it be like if we could consciously give name to the emotions and sensations we were feeling in our body, as we were connecting with the atrocities of the United States Government

I imagined how it might be if the crowd was asked:

“Who else’s heart is breaking?”

“Who else’s stomach is gripping?”

I wondered what it would be like for us, as a group gathered together, to feel the anger, the disgust, the sadness, while also paying attention to our bodies? I wondered what it would be like for the crowd to be guided into their bodies, so they could safely connect to their human selves.

Including our Somatic Bodies

Underneath any emotion there is a bodily response happening, and yet because our culture is not somatically intelligent we often don’t recognize these bodily sensations, or know how to safely include them. We don’t talk about these aspects our humanity nearly enough.

I wondered what it would be like to include our full human selves, consciously, together, as we were gathered in the solidarity of wanting humane conditions for our brothers and sisters.

I wondered what it would be like for us to consciously acknowledge that under the anger, there was also some heart break – and that perhaps that’s why we were really all gathered together.

I wondered what it would be like to consciously include our precious and wise hearts, which are hurting because others are being violated.

I wondered what it might be like for us to realize that we feel pain, and everything else, because of Love: we gathered together for our love and value for other human beings.

I wondered what it would be like if we all know that it is a wise heart and a sacred heart which feels pain when others are being oppressed. I wondered how it would be to validate each and every person’s wise and sacred heart for showing up in Love.

I wondered how amazing it would be to consciously feel this sacred pain in our hearts, and discover that although it may be immensely uncomfortable, we are safe to feel such honest and sincere responses. We are safe to be in Love.

What would it be like if we all consciously knew we were safe to feel, safe to be fully human, and safe to love? I imagine a crowd of empowered individuals, enabled to utilize the heartache, the anger and the love they feel to help others. As I imagine a group of people who feel embowered in their being, I see a new expression of humanity that can bring great change into this world.

Heart work and Action

I think there are often chasms within social justice efforts. Generally speaking I notice that there are those who do what I might call heart work, and there are those who do more direct action or involvement.

Sometimes those who do heart work stay away from direct action as they assume it will be full of violence or they don’t feel safe to participate, or because they are uncomfortable with conflict. Sometimes those who do direct action stay away from heart work because they don’t think it’s effective, or don’t know how to do engage from this place amidst conflict. While I find those perspectives to be valid- I myself can flip flop between the two- I’m coming to learn that there is another way.  And, more than that, I think this other way is necessary in evolving past the dominant narrative into a transformative valued system. 

There is a way to participate in non-violent direct action **and** heart work. This territory is so very unfamiliar that it’s rarely acknowledged as even a choice, but in my experience it is a choice, and it is something for us to consciously move towards.  I see few role models and the “how to” is scattered amidst various resources. I too don’t have a guidebook, or a manual. I have more questions than answers. And, I have a deep and sincere passion to move from Love, and in my experience there is nothing more wise than that. We can learn together.

My journey

The desire to move from Love is a central part of my life in every way- including activism. I began writing about my journey with heart work and social justice a year ago, and have been writing about it ever since. I haven’t yet found a way to convey this journey in linear, logical way- instead I offer you my own discoveries and experiences in this ongoing exploration of listening, learning, and acting. You can read them hereherehere here and here. Indirectly related, is also this post. 

My first steps in returning to the area of social justice from a more embodied place started slowly. It started by exposing myself to different people, perspectives, and ideas. I read and listened, and I felt. I noticed what my body was doing while I was coming up against ideas I’d never thought of. I noticed what emotions were emerging as I read perspectives that were so different to my own.  I noticed my guilt, shame, defensiveness and denial. I noticed confusion, disorientation, and uncertainty. I kept reading, listening and learning. I engaged in somatic inquiry. I connected to my wounds. I connected with others who were doing similar deep work. Over time I noticed increased connection, empathy and compassion. And, over time, I noticed a very different relationship with safety and Love.

I am committed to listening, learning and then acting. This is ongoing, as I continue to look at my own conditioning from my family of origin as well as my conditioning as a privileged white female from the middle class.

Voices That Teach

I have been reaching out to some of my favorite people on Facebook over the last few months, asking them for their favorite resources in learning about racism and social justice. The rest of this blog post shares those resources, as well as some of my own resources. This is not an inclusive list – just a small sampling.

I’d love to hear back from you on what I’ve missed. Let’s keep learning with each other!

Facebook, in no particular order  (may also be on Twitter or Instagram) 

Generally speaking, I find it good Facebook etiquette to “Follow” people that I’ve never been exposed to and want to learn from. I also find it good etiquette that while learning, I don’t say much, and act as if I am a guest in their home.

Brig Feltus

Ericka Hines

Desiree Adaway

Lace on Race

Nicole Lee

Ally Henny

Mary Ann Canty Merrill

Andréa Ranae Johnson

Jackie Summers

Staci Jordan Shelton

Bakari Parrett

Soyara Chemlay

Irami Osei-Frimpong

Saira Rao

Tania Singh Bhatia

Dimitra Stathopoulos

Books, in no particular order 

Anything by Octavia E Butler

Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown

They Were Her Property by Stephanie Jones-Rogers

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Unapologetic by Charlene Carruthers

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibrahim X. Kendi

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibrahim X. Kendi

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

We Want to do More Than Survive by Bettina L. Love

The Privileged Poor by Anthony Abraham Jack

Racism without Racists by  Eduardo Bonilla-Silva

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Between You and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Learning to be White by Thandeka

Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Anthony G. Greenwaldand Mahzarin Banaji

Mothers of Massive Resistance by Elizabeth Gillespie McRae

Homegoing Yaa Gyasi

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

Barracoon, The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by  Zora Neale Hurston

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I’m Still Here, Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A list of books recommended by Irami Osei-Frimpong:

Podcast series, in no particular order

Hidden Brain “Implicit Bias and Police Shootings”

Seeing White

Code Switch

Intersectionality Matters

Movies, in no particular order

10,000 Black Men Named George

Norma Rae

When They See Us

I Am Not your Negro



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