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My Grandmother's Hands

Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies

By Resmaa Menakem
15-minute read
Audio available
My Grandmother's Hands by Resmaa Menakem

My Grandmother’s Hands (2017) explores how racism affects Black, white, and police bodies in the United States – and what individuals and communities can do to heal them. Trauma therapist Resmaa Menakem explains why historic, familial, and personal trauma relating to racism is often stored deep in our nervous system, and teaches body-based practices to overcome it.

  • Black people who want to begin to heal their bodies from the trauma of racism 
  • White folks who want to become better allies through a body-centered practice of anti-racism
  • Police officers and public safety officials who want to learn how to avoid violence

Resmaa Menakem, MSW, LICSW, is a therapist specializing in body-centered trauma therapy. He has worked as a consultant for the Minneapolis Police Department, Minneapolis Public Schools, and the US military, focusing on issues relating to trauma processing and violence prevention. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil

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My Grandmother's Hands

Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies

By Resmaa Menakem
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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My Grandmother's Hands by Resmaa Menakem
Synopsis

My Grandmother’s Hands (2017) explores how racism affects Black, white, and police bodies in the United States – and what individuals and communities can do to heal them. Trauma therapist Resmaa Menakem explains why historic, familial, and personal trauma relating to racism is often stored deep in our nervous system, and teaches body-based practices to overcome it.

Key idea 1 of 9

Racism lives in our bodies.

When the author was a child, he spent a lot of time with his grandmother. She would often ask him to massage her aching hands while they were watching TV. One day, he asked her why her fingers were so swollen and thick. She explained that it was from picking cotton. She had started working on a plantation when she was only four years old, and the sharp burrs of the plant had torn up her hands. 

This is just one powerful example of the marks that racism leaves on the body. But not all of the bodily trauma that racism causes is visible. One of the most pernicious things about racism is that its roots and consequences are often hidden. In fact, with the exception of white supremacists, most people don't consciously engage in racism – but they often perpetuate it nonetheless.

The key message here is: Racism lives in our bodies. 

The author’s wife once observed a Walmart employee whose job entailed randomly selecting customers after check-out to see if their receipts matched the items in their shopping carts. Except her selection was not at all random – she seemed to exclusively target Black customers. The author’s wife alerted a supervisor to this racial profiling. When the supervisor talked to the employee, she seemed genuinely sorry and surprised. It hadn’t even occurred to her that she was only checking Black people. 

For many white Americans, racism is so deeply ingrained into their nervous systems that they don’t even register how they contribute to it. For Black Americans, on the other hand, racial injustice is so quotidian that they can’t even afford to pay much attention to how it affects their bodies. 

But it does. In a country in which white bodies are routinely valued higher than Black bodies, Black people suffer disproportionately from physical and mental distress. They are more often subject to direct violence, such as police brutality, and they experience higher rates of stress, depression, and anxiety. As a result, they more often suffer from stress-related diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and alcoholism. 

Racism in the US is always a bodily experience – both for its victims and its perpetrators. It’s a trauma caused by the cumulative effect of American history, the country’s social systems, and daily injustices. And it’s buried deep in the body of every American. 

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