“Mindful of Race” by Ruth King

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Subtitle: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out

In the Introduction, Ruth King shares the effects of race on her own body and her own family as a Black woman living in the south of the US. Insight meditation has helped her manage the effects of racism, and she has created trainings that help others cure the heart disease of racism.

Part 1, Diagnosis, analyzes racism. Her writing is direct and clear. Here is how racism affects Black people. Here is how it affects white people. We have dominant and subordinated identities, like a white woman who is also chronically ill, or a Jewish person who passes as white. Here is how we can begin to get honest with ourselves and others about race.

Part 2, Heart Surgery, teaches the basics of mindfulness meditation. Here is how to invite the body to settle. Here are many specific phrases to say silently to ourselves or others in metta (kindness) meditation. For example, “When you feel deep sorrow, hopelessness, and despair, I will stay with you. I will breathe with you.”

Part 3, Recovery, gives tools for creating racial affinity discussion groups and making progress in dislodging racism from our hearts. Throughout the book, she gives examples of how listening deeply and making time for our emotional responses allows us to move through them and reach our vulnerable hearts.

Unlike The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda Magee which moves very slowly and seems to be trying to convince skeptical white people, this book lays out the truth and assumes people will do the work to absorb it.

Highly recommended.

Ruth King’s website with more about her Mindful of Race training program.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“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.

“My Grandmother’s Hands” by Resmaa Menakem

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Subtitle: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies

Recommended to me by: Naomi Ardea

Resmaa Menakem is a Black psychotherapist and teacher. He addresses the ways white supremacy, which he calls white body supremacy, is perpetuated through trauma in Black, white, and police bodies. He says we each have to learn to settle our bodies, individually and collectively. He distinguishes the clean pain of addressing and healing trauma from the dirty pain of avoiding it.

I appreciate the insights and settling practices in this book. African-Americans have a history of trauma from slavery, as well as the day-to-day trauma and stress of racism. White people also had a history of trauma before colonizing the Americas. This trauma is passed down the generations through epigenetics and patterns of traumatizing behavior. He brings up the trauma of inflicting or witnessing violence, which afflicts police bodies.

He says white bodies and police bodies reflexively feel threatened by Black bodies. He talks about police saying they “couldn’t help it” and “feared for their lives” when talking about shooting and killing unarmed Black people, often in the back. He adds “annihilate” to “fight, flight, or freeze,” but never discusses it directly as a trauma or nervous system response.

He asserts that white bodies have generational trauma from historical conflicts in Europe. He does not address the trauma of immigration itself, abandoning all that is known for a wholly unfamiliar place, leaving behind family and social connections. In addition, his emphasis on generational trauma elides individual present-time trauma, letting individuals off the hook.

There are some metaphors and simplifications that don’t work for me. Calling the vagus nerve the “soul nerve.” Saying it causes or holds emotions that are held in the whole body. Saying that it is responsible for activation responses in the body, when those are caused by the sympathetic nervous system. Saying it makes us human. No, reptiles and mammals have vagus nerves.

Most of the suggested exercises in the book are intended to settle the body, or to mindfully and gently address an activating memory. And then, on page 199 of the hardcover edition, at the beginning of the chapter on Mending the White Heart and Body, a sickening, violent act is described with the specific invitation to put yourself in the scene. It is not even marked as an exercise in the same way as the other exercises, and there is no content warning.

I had a teacher in a massage class once who similarly ended a guided meditation in a shocking way. I think some people imagine that they need to show people what trauma feels like, when many of us have plenty of experience with it already. I am disappointed that the book was published with this mistaken assumption included.

The final chapters contain concrete advice for creating cohesive and resilient social justice groups and events.

Overall, this is an important book with important ideas. It takes a step forward into addressing the trauma of slavery, racism, policing, and white supremacy.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Inner Work of Racial Justice” by Rhonda V. Magee

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Subtitle: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness

Rhonda V. Magee is a Black woman law professor at the University of San Francisco. She has studied mindfulness in depth, and uses it to get through difficult conversations about race with students as well as live with ever-present microaggressions. She teaches mindfulness to help people pause before reacting, increase inner tolerance for strong emotions, and to stay connected with themselves and others.

The first half of the book very gently and slowly encourages the reader to admit that racism exists and might be part of their lives. This is the opposite of Layla Saad’s direct approach in Me and White Supremacy. I can see that different approaches work well for different people.

The strongest message of the book is that we need to stay in mindful, non-violent conversation with each other (and ourselves) about race. Not until the last chapter does she add a caveat about retreating from people who threaten violence. I would add a second caveat about people who are simply not listening or engaging in good faith. Most of her examples include students or workshop participants who have chosen to learn from her, or community members who have an existing motivation to stay connected.

With the addition of those caveats, I agree that we are all in the racist soup together, each learning at our own pace, and we can do our best to be kind to people who are not as knowledgeable as we are, just as more knowledgeable people continue to be kind to us. I wanted to see more about reaching one’s limits and reacting with anger and frustration. There is a place for that, as well as a lot of good work to be done in the world with mindful listening.

Highly recommended for people who are new to anti-racist work, or new to meditation, but not both. I think it would be difficult to learn both from a book at the same time. I have some experience with both and the pace felt slow, but I still got a lot from the book.

Meditations and articles at Rhonda V. Magee’s website

Available at Powell’s Books.

“You Don’t Say” by Nate Powell

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Subtitle: Collected Stories

Recommended to me by: a friend

This collection of short story out-takes in comic form was recommended to me for “Cakewalk,” about a white girl who dressed in blackface for Halloween, and “Like Hell I Will,” about the 1921 arson and massacre of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street,” a prosperous Black community. Tulsa race massacre on Wikipedia.

The Midwestern girl in “Cakewalk” is unaware of her transgression. She wants to be loved like Aunt Jemima, and doesn’t understand why the adults around her are horrified. No one explains it to her, even while she’s told to wash the charcoal off her face.

“Like Hell I Will” lays out the terrible, shameful history of the Tulsa race massacre. It is well-told and well-drawn, and at the same time minimized by its inclusion in this compendium of much less serious vignettes from white people’s perspectives.

Nate Powell is the illustrator for “March,” John Lewis’s autobiography in graphic novel form. That might be a better introduction to his work than this collection, which starts with comics drawing from his own life as a rootless young white man in the punk scene.

Available at Amazon.

“Minor Feelings” by Cathy Park Hong

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Subtitle: An Asian American Reckoning

Recommended to me by: Jesse-the-k

Cathy Park Hong describes minor feelings as “the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed.”

In this frank memoir, she describes growing up in LA’s Koreatown in a Korean immigrant family, complex friendships in college, and finding her voice as an artist in conversation with other artists, interwoven with Asian American experiences of racism.

Patiently educating a clueless white person about race is draining. It takes all your powers of persuasion. Because it’s more than a chat about race. It’s ontological. It’s like explaining to a person why you exist, or why you feel pain, or why your reality is distinct from their reality. Except it’s even trickier than that. Because the person has all of Western history, politics, literature, and mass culture on their side, proving that you don’t exist.

Cathy Park Hong pulls off that tricky feat, asserting her own reality and showing us her life while also explaining what it’s like to be Korean in America for clueless white folks. Highly recommended!

Random House Books summary

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.

“Outside the Charmed Circle” by Misha Magdalene

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Subtitle: Exploring Gender & Sexuality in Magical Practice

Recommended to me by: Sam L-G

Misha Magdalene (they/them pronouns) asserts that magic is queer. In writing by turns academic and conversational, they explore viewing magic through the lenses of gender and sexuality.

They describe their experience with growing up queer, as well as their gradual introduction to magical practice, including the whisper networks that say, “Avoid this established teacher, he’s creepy.” Of course Misha went and found out for themselves, fortunately without being harmed.

They talk about consent, and how important it is in matters both sexual and magical, and definitely in the mix of both. As a practitioner of the Feri tradition, they directly address some of the deep issues with consent in that tradition.

They list some gender-queer and non-heterosexual gods and goddesses in various flavors of paganism.

In the end, magic is queer because it is non-mainstream, not the default religion, outside a lot of people’s lived experiences.

The book includes practical writing and magical exercises to explore the covered topics.

Highly recommended as an interesting, eclectic, and principled exploration of gender, sexuality, and magical practice.

Misha Magdalene’s blog at Patheos, Outside the Charmed Circle explores some of the same ideas. There are posts that forthrightly challenge the pagan community to address its problems with racism, homophobia, and lack of consent, sexual predation and abuse.

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.