Body, conversation & bumbling accompaniment

Reflection by Corinne Berkseth Baker

10 April 2021

A small group of GSLCers just finished discussing My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. We found it presented quite a different approach on the way forward in resolving centuries of ongoing racial (and other) trauma.

If you have any acquaintance with yoga, the method is familiar. Menakem’s premise is that healing begins first with awareness of one’s body and then, addressing trauma internalized in the body and passed down through generations in various ways. (For me it was also an interesting intersection with recent exposure to the science of epigenetics.)

While I only read chapters one to nine of 24, I recognized the basic notion that feeling trauma in the body simply takes awareness (though I don’t necessarily associate what I think of as trauma with my experience here). It rather flipped a switch for me in the way I experience anxiety in my body at times. I’d noticed recently that my heart pounded when I was stressed; I hadn’t thought much about it beyond the simple realization until reading this book.

Our discussions were fascinating and meaningful, even having read only about half the book. And it continues to be pertinent. Two days ago, as I listened to some of Dr. Martin Tobin’s testimony from George Floyd’s murder trial, I realized my body had tensed and tightened. I recognized these physical changes in hearing and seeing again, and in new, more forensic ways, some of the brutality of his death. This new awareness gives me different perspective on how ongoing racism can impact our BIPOC brothers and sisters.

I’ve also been thinking about a colleague, and her young son, following the murders of eight people in Atlanta, including six women of Asian descent. Recently, she looked stressed during an online meeting we’d just finished. In addition to the work stuff we shared, when I asked how she was feeling in light of the Atlanta tragedy, she told me she’d since talked with her parents about not walking outside, particularly after dark, and that she also now avoided walking by herself outside.

It was heart breaking and I found myself bumbling with what to say next. I apologized, knowing, as she pointed out, that it wasn’t “my fault.” But I’m still deeply sorry for the fact that she has to think of safety measures beyond common sense, and even more so now by the bit she shared.

I struggled as I heard my well-intentioned words center me: “I just want you to know I feel terrible you have a go through this, etc.” And as she turned to comforting me: “But Corinne, it’s not you, you’re a kind person, etc.” Yes, I’m kind, which is good. But it’s also not enough. If my kindness doesn’t extend beyond my personal interactions and circle, its impact is too limited.

Sharing this with you, mostly white Good Shepherd, is a small way I’ll try to extend the influence of one conversation beyond an individual kindness. Though I still wish “better” words had come to me in the moment, I’m also glad I reached out. I’m as certain as I can be that she took comfort in the few minutes we spent. These are conversations and interactions we must have, in love, as we navigate these fraught waters.

Perhaps more important are the conversations we white people must have with each other – sharing what we’re learning from reading and listening to BIPOC folks we know or don’t know. Discussing what we’re becoming more aware of in our bodies and otherwise. Talking through the many things we don’t understand, the questions we have, without relying on the folks on the receiving end of racism to teach us. Working through our experiences of feeling the message hasn’t been delivered in a way that is helpful (read, comfortable, dear white people) for us.

Let us be in this, Good Shepherd, body, mind and soul. Let us connect with the gospel of Jesus and the unconventional, scary, risky, life-giving ways he talked about and acted on the love of God for all, spreading it on whatever ground ahead, no matter fertile and rocky. Let us build a bigger table, one that doesn’t always agree but always loves and listens and tries to understand another.

GSLC's Anti-Racism Team provides activities and outlets for individuals to learn about and prayerfully reflect on racism and white privilege, stand with those who face discrimination, and act to stem structural racism.