“The Politics of Trauma” by Staci K. Haines

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Subtitle: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice

Recommended to me by: Darryl C.

This book rang true to me from beginning to end. Staci Haines combines embodied trauma work with social justice, and everything she says fits with what I already know and takes it further.

Many healing modalities view trauma and abuse as individual problems. Instead, Haines puts trauma and abuse in the context of our abusive social structures that put individuals in harm’s way. White supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and environmental destruction divide us from one another and keep us from learning the skills we need to treat each other with care. They keep us divided from ourselves as we try to heal.

Safety, belonging, and dignity are core needs that should be met together for everyone. Traumatic and abusive situations put one in conflict with another – we can choose either safety or dignity, either dignity or belonging. Our bodies deeply learn traumatized ways of responding to the world.

We can form declarations and commitments: statements about our core beliefs and goals that guide our healing. For example, “I am a commitment to be in my skin without apology.” (Lisa Thomas-Adeyemo) We can discover what commitments and declarations we have unconsciously adopted or had imposed upon us. Declarations can be personal or community-oriented or both.

We can find what supports us and practice resilience, reminding ourselves to come out of trauma mode. Social justice organizations can also collectively practice resilience. We can rebuild safety and trust at the embodied, physical level. We can relearn boundaries and requests.

To help someone heal, we blend with the patterns that are already true for them, and help them notice what the pattern has been taking care of for them. As the body is supported and honored, the underlying physical and emotional memories and holding patterns can be released. We can help someone feel allied with, exactly as their body needs to feel it.

For example, make a fist with one hand. With the other hand, try to pry it open. How does that feel? Instead, let your other hand support the fist with curiosity and kindness. How does that feel? What happens with your fist? With the rest of your body?

Trauma is held in the body through bands of tension, or absent slackness. A healthy body has relaxed presence. Somatic opening is encouraged by blending with what is there and allowing it to release and transform. While emotions often arise during a release, cathartic emotion is not the goal.

We can discern what shame is ours and what belongs to others. We can blend with shame, hearing its messages, and look underneath to what it is hiding or protecting. Often shame is preferable to feeling powerless, helpless, or abandoned. We can learn to take centered accountability rather than being over- or under-accountable for our actions. We can sit with the complex questions around our responsibilities. We can learn about forgiveness of others and self-forgiveness. “Even if … [shameful act or belief], I am forgivable.”

We can learn to be present with ourselves and with others at the same time. We can learn to hold contradictions and conflict. We can learn how to have generative rather than destructive conflicts.

Personal healing and social justice organizing can support and serve each other.

I loved this quote at the beginning.

The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta.
—Eduardo Galeano, from “Window on the Body”

Highly recommended for activists and healers!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez

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Subtitle: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Recommended to me by: Dave C

This is an engagingly written, data-driven compilation of all the ways women are left out of important scientific and civic decisions, to our serious detriment. Often data isn’t even collected in a way that shows relevant differences between men and women. Men are considered the default, “typical,” “normal” person, while women (51% of the population) are the atypical awkward exceptions. It includes language (does “Man” mean everyone, or not?), budgeting decisions, bathrooms, safety equipment design and size, public transit, cleaning chemicals, medical treatments, political expectations and judgments, etc.

Despite its calm, matter-of-fact tone, it is infuriating to read.

I usually don’t add books here that I haven’t read in full, but I want to keep track of this one as a reference and highly recommend it even though I don’t have the emotional stamina to read it now.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad

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Subtitle: How to Recognize Your Privilege, Combat Your Racism, and Change the World

In this book for people with white privilege who want to take the next step in anti-racism, Layla Saad guides the reader on a brilliantly organized 28 day exploration of internalized white supremacy and how to address it.

The first week explores the basics of how we benefit from white privilege while avoiding acknowledging it, including white privilege, white fragility, tone policing, white silence, white superiority, and white exceptionalism. The second week looks at anti-Blackness and racial stereotypes. The third week explores both true and false allyship. The fourth week is a call to action to speak out about anti-racism with friends, family, and others.

The book is accompanied by several supplemental videos, available online. Layla Saad created them during the original 28 day Instagram challenge, encouraging people doing the challenge to be honest, dig deep, and do the work, rather than retreating to shallow cliches. The videos are well worth watching for her clear explanations of some of the pitfalls for white people beginning anti-racism work.

I appreciated her insight that participation in white supremacy requires numbness to all the suffering it causes. That goes a long way toward explaining the dissociation and lack of empathy I see in the world.

Layla Saad uses language carefully and precisely throughout the book and videos. In particular, she distinguishes between people who are white, and those who are white-passing, and therefore are both the bearers and the targets of white privilege. Being white and Jewish is at an uncomfortable border, where I clearly hold white privilege, and at the same time Jews are a target of white supremacy.

While I started with a basic understanding of white privilege, working through each day’s topic deepened my understanding and clarified my thinking about the subtle ways we learn to reinforce it. I struggled the most with the last few days where we are encouraged to confront friends, family, and others about racism. I am happy to discuss white privilege with like-minded people, and mention that I’m learning more in hopes of sparking someone’s interest. I get stuck when someone flatly disagrees that privilege exists or refuses a suggestion to acknowledge their privilege.

I’m sitting with the question of when and how engaging in conflict might be useful. The softer non-confrontational approach always looks more appealing, because it’s hard to break ranks with the assumed camaraderie of white privilege.

Highly recommended! Even though it always seems like we’re too busy to do this kind of deep work, the best time to start is right now. The more each of us learns and unpacks our participation in white supremacy, the sooner it can be fully dismantled.

Available at Amazon.

Please note: The various “Workbooks” now popping up are published by scammers attempting to profit from Layla Saad’s popularity. Make sure you get her book, which was already a workbook even though that is not in the title.

“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Subtitle: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Recommended to me by: Amy Bennett

A set of essays loosely tied together in chronological order, with themes of sweetgrass and braiding all the way through. Each essay braids together personal memoir, Native American (specifically Potawatomi) ways of living, and colonialist ways of living.

Potawatomi ways developed over generations as people saw what works to live in balance with nature, as a part of nature. Humans are considered the young ones, the newcomers, learning from their more experienced plant and animal family members.

Sweetgrass is harvested in specific ways. Not the first plant you find, because that might be the only one. Take only what you need, up to half of the plants there, either by cutting half of each bunch, or taking whole bunches. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a Professor of Botany, and one of her PhD students showed in a set of careful experiments that sweetgrass thrives when harvested this way, and fails to propagate if it is left completely unharvested. Humans and sweetgrass have a cooperative, collaborative partnership.

White colonialists disastrously interrupted Native American ways of living by stealing Native Americans’ lands and pushing them into entirely different ecosystems, and by taking their children to residential schools and forcibly preventing them from speaking their own languages or practicing their spirituality. The Potawatomi people and other tribes are gathering together the fragments of what remains, and braiding them together anew.

The book ends on a hopeful note, that perhaps enough of us will turn toward collaborative, cooperative ways of living that we will not entirely destroy the ecosystems of this green earth. Fitting right in with that hope, the current Great Pause of this pandemic gives us time to consider what we want to add back in to our lives, and what we want to leave behind to allow cleaner skies, safer streets, and more sustainable lives.

I read this as an ebook, because that’s what I can get from the library in this time of pandemic. It’s an odd way to read a book so rooted in physical experience, and I would have much preferred to have a physical book in my hands. This is a long book that wants to be appreciated slowly, essay by essay, section by section, exploring how all the parts fit together to support each other.

Highly recommended!

Robin Wall Kimmerer: ‘People can’t understand the world as a gift unless someone shows them how’ interview by James Yeh, May 23, 2020

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Turn This World Inside Out” by Nora Samaran

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Subtitle: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture

Recommended to me by: Nora Samaran’s online essay The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture

This book contains three of Nora Samaran’s powerful essays (also available on her blog) and dialogues with other writers that expand on the themes of nurturance, attachment, shame, gaslighting, gendered violence, and repairing harm.

It is a short book that can be read quickly, and at the same time there are a lot of chewy ideas to take in over time. There are also references to more reading on these topics by people who are one or more of trans, Indigenous, and Black who have developed skills of sustainable, relational living. The book holds the question: how do we best move forward from and heal from white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

What would it be like to live in a culture where we all could be socially embraced in this way, where we could speak up about harm, could say not to it, without fear, because we know without question that no one in our community will dehumanize another?

I admire Nora Samaran’s insights, and I long for the kinds of communities and relationships she describes. This book brings in more voices to deepen and expand the conversation. Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Bicycle/Race” by Adonia E. Lugo, Phd

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Subtitle: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance

Recommended to me by: Elly Blue

Adonia Lugo gives us both a warm memoir and a carefully researched overview of her anthropological study of racism in bicycling activism. She shares her background as a half-Mexican, half-white girl growing up in San Juan Capistrano in Southern California, her joyful involvement with bicycling as transportation while studying in Portland, and her direct experiences of racism and resistance as she pursued her PhD research. As part of it, she helped create the first cicLAvia in LA, where streets are closed to cars and opened to bicyclists and pedestrians.

Race and mobility are intertwined because we designed segregation into our built environments and how we police them, and racial equity in the distribution of public money isn’t a metaphor or a goal you opt into; it’s a legal obligation, thanks to the civil rights movement. I wasn’t pointing to the culture of white supremacy embedded in bike advocacy, policy, and planning because I wanted to cause trouble; it was about fulfilling the promise of our shared democracy.

She writes about the successive waves of colonization and conquest that shaped Southern California, the role of racism in people’s preference for private cars, selective police enforcement against people of color, and the reinforcement of white supremacy in the networks of people who set public policy. She writes about how her family’s loving support gave her the confidence to try to create change, and how she realized that entrenched systems were resisting her efforts.

Highly recommended! I read it a chapter or two at a time, with pauses to digest the information about the racist underpinnings of US culture and transportation.

Available at Microcosm Publishing.

“Come Shining” edited by Jill Elliott & Alison Towle Moore

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Recommended to me by: Tina Tau

I bought this book to read Tina Tau’s essay about going to sea on a sailing ship in 2016 with an international group of novice sailors. Her essay is a meditation on what it means to be American and how we look to the rest of the world, watching our political disarray and increasing gun violence with compassionate eyes.

The book grew out of a writing group “On Writing in a Dark Time,” with additional poems and essays from all over the country. The sections are “Facing the Darkness,” “Reflection in the Dark,” and “Finding Our Way Forward.”

I liked the individual essays and poems in the book, and each one does not feel depressing on its own, but collectively they weighed me down. I kept wandering away from the book and then finding it again and reading a few more, which is why I’m only posting about it now at the end of 2018.

I’ve found that in conversations with people about the dark times we are in, we naturally find an alternation between worry about ongoing disasters, and appreciation of the small details of the present. I wish this book had more of that alternation.

Recommended in small bites for its lively personal essays and poems, many anchored here in Portland.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Bikequity” edited by Elly Blue

book coverSubtitle: Money, Class, and Bicycling

Recommended to me by: Elly Blue at Microcosm Publishing bookstore

A collection of close to twenty articles about the intersection of biking, class, race, and social inequity from a variety of viewpoints. Each article was clear and engaging. Since I bike for transportation and care about social justice, this zine/small book felt comforting and inclusive to read. Recommended!

Available at Microcosm Publishing.

book coverI commented to Elly that I was starting to notice judgment about biking around as I near age 50, and she also recommended a smaller zine, “Pedal by Pedal, a zine about women over 40 who ride bicycles,” edited by Julie Brooks.  Also inclusive and comforting to read.  There are more women like me out there!

Available at Microcosm Publishing.

“The Newcomers” by Helen Thorpe

book coverSubtitle: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom

Recommended to me by: My friend Linda K.

Helen Thorpe spent a year and a half observing and helping in an ELA (English Language Acquisition) class at South High School in Denver Colorado. Her journalist’s eye is both clear and compassionate as she watches a classroom of newly arrived teen refugees from around the world learn English basics.

I remember when ELA used to be called ESL, English as a Second Language, but it is an apt name change since some of these kids already speak three or four languages, and maybe read and write in three or four alphabets.

Both the school as a whole and the beginning ELA teacher Mr. Williams in particular are dedicated to welcoming kids from around the world and helping them succeed.

I was worried that the book would focus on the tragedy of young refugee lives, or look down on the kids, but the book celebrates them as strong, determined, resilient young people. Difficult circumstances and traumatic stories are described with a light touch, clearly and with compassion.

Helen Thorpe gets to know the kids by interacting with them in class (with the help of Google translate on their phones), interviewing them with hired translators, and visiting a few of them at home to talk with their parents. She also learns about the history of war and oppression that has caused these families (and some unaccompanied minors) to flee their homes, sometimes multiple times.

After the school year, she visits the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is still in crisis, and meets some relatives of one of the families she got to know.

The book was written in 2016. It shows both the dedication of the people who help refugees get oriented and settled in the US, and the worsening effect of Trump’s rhetoric on students who are harassed on city buses for wearing hijab or having dark skin. It ends with Trump’s election and the shock of knowing that refugees need help more than ever, but not having an incoming caseload because of Trump’s Muslim Ban.

Highly recommended! Learn about what refugees’ lives are really like, and how hard the lucky ones who make it into the US work to become established here, while enjoying getting to know this group of teens and the people around them.

Population Mountains – a way to visualize the population and surroundings of some of the cities the immigrants came from (not affiliated with the book).

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Belonging” by Toko-pa Turner

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Subtitle: Remembering Ourselves Home

The gorgeous, inclusive cover and introduction/dedication to this book grabbed me.

For the rebels and the misfits, the black sheep and the outsiders. For the refugees, the orphans, the scapegoats, and the weirdos. For the uprooted, the abandoned, the shunned and invisible ones.

May you recognize with increasing vividness that you know what you know.

May you give up your allegiances to self-doubt, meekness, and hesitation.

May you be willing to be unlikeable, and in the process be utterly loved.

May you be impervious to the wrongful projections of others, and may you deliver your disagreements with precision and grace.

May you see, with the consummate clarity of nature moving through you, that your voice is not only necessary, but desperately needed to sing us out of this muddle.

May you feel shored up, supported, entwined, and reassured as you offer yourself and your gifts to the world.

May you know for certain that even as you stand by yourself, you are not alone.

With poetic language and myths and Jungian dreamwork, Toko-pa Turner tells her own story of not-belonging and weaves a wider net of strategies to belong better. There is an Outcast archetype who can visit our dreams, and whose patterns we can follow. We can open our hearts to our own pain, and be willing to be more vulnerable (“woundable”) to others.

Her Black Sheep Gospel resonated for me. Adopt your rejected qualities. Venerate your too-muchness. Send out your signals of originality. Go it alone until you are alone with others.

In a lot of this book, I heard, “Try harder! Work harder! Get out of your own way!” While that may be valid advice, I’ve tried a lot of things it advises. It does also touch on fallow time and letting go of connections that no longer work well.

The author is writing from a place when things are going well for her, so she describes her steps in that direction and then prescribes them for others. While I’m glad she landed where she did, I’m not sure it’s so deterministic as all that. She talks both about divine guidance and about taking action on your own behalf. Yes, when things go well, it looks like a mix of those things led you there. A mix of those things can lead people to any number of places, not all of them positive.

The book was published in 2017, so she does acknowledge increasing environmental and political disaster throughout the book. She advises living closer to the earth, returning to more indigenous ways, without noting that all 7.6 billion of us can’t do that at the same time.

Her description of the problem resonated with me. Her solutions, not as much. Recommended especially if you already do dreamwork.

Available at Powell’s Books.