The body is where our instincts reside and where we fight, flee, or freeze. My Grandmother’s Hands is a call to action for Americans to recognize that racism is not about the head, but about the body. Author Resmaa Menakem introduces an alternative view of what we can do to grow beyond our entrenched racialized divide.
Sensitive and probing, this book from therapist Menakem delves into the complex effects of racism and white privilege. Departing from standard academic approaches, he speaks from the wisdom of his grandmother and his own expertise in somatic therapy, a field that emphasizes the mind-body connection. Trauma, both present-day and historical, forms the cornerstone of Menakem's analysis. He writes that race is a "myth something made up in the 17th century," with the concepts of whiteness and racial superiority nonetheless now "essential facts of life, like birth, death and gravity." The result is that both black and white people are traumatized with fear of the racial other and with the "dirty pain of avoidance, blame, and denial." At the outset, Menakem implores readers to "experience" his book in their bodies. To this end, bodycentric activities, such as breath exercises, are described throughout. Menakem emphasizes body mindfulness, helping readers move from unhealthy reflexive responses to traumatic emotions to the conscious experience of "clean pain," which involves directly facing such emotions and thereby getting past them. Menakem is specific when directing his messages. "To all my white readers," he says, "welcome... let's get to work." To law-enforcement officers he gives the same welcome. And to African-Americans, he offers counsel and highlights the value of their experiences.