S4 E4: Resmaa Menakem on Racialized Trauma (Part 2 of 2)

Released October 12, 2021

As more bodies of culture express the importance of their mental health, many are learning more about the effects of racialized trauma. Today we conclude our two-part episode with Meadows Senior Fellow Resmaa Menakem as he explains how this trauma often plays out in society.

Podcast Transcript

Resmaa Menakem: It is dangerous to the structure that Black people, brown people, Asian people, indigenous people begin to say, “I value me,” because in this structure, brother, it is relatively new that me and you could be up here talking the way that we’re talking and have some surety that probably there is not a lynch party waiting for us upstairs or outside of our doors, right? It is relatively new, that the Black body has any dominion over itself.  

Dominic Lawson: Welcome to Beyond Theory, a podcast powered by Meadows Behavioral Healthcare that brings you in-depth conversations with firsthand insights from the front lines of mental health and addiction recovery. I’m Dominic Lawson.  

As more bodies of culture express the importance of their mental health, many are learning more about the effects of racialized trauma.  Today we conclude our two-part episode with Meadows Senior Fellow Resmaa Menakem as he explains how this trauma often plays out in society.  Let’s get out of the abstract and see how this applies in the real world. It’s time to go Beyond Theory. 

Dominic Lawson: Resmaa, I know that in your book you talk about police bodies. I know you’ve done work with Minneapolis Police Department. I want to ask a question about something in your book. You talk about that police body. See, while their natural intention is to protect all bodies, but with Black bodies there’s this sense of, that Black bodies are superhuman and impervious to pain. I’m curious about something. Do you think that notion is kind of reinforced through sports, how a lot of Black bodies excelled through sports and superhuman feats like that? I’m just curious about that, in your opinion.  

Resmaa Menakem: Yeah. So, brother, an article just came out about two weeks ago where somebody peeked behind the curtain and found out that the NFL was using this rubric on how they determine whether or not players could get help for the brain injury. Have you heard about this?  

Dominic Lawson: I am very familiar with that.  

Resmaa Menakem: Yeah. So, what they found was that they had determined that because Black bodies and Black people and Black men specifically were at a lower IQ level and a lower level of functionality, that they should get different payouts compared to the white players. Now just think about that. This is the NFL, right? This is the place where you have many, many Black people who are on the field every Sunday giving their body up for, in order to provide for their family. Yet this persistent idea that the Black body is this impervious, this superhuman, you have to really use an inordinate amount of force in order to subdue the Black body, is an old European trope. It started at the same time that the enslavement stuff started in the 1500s or 1600s. It is the old trope.  

In 2021, that same trope lives in the NFL, lives in and around the institution of the NBA, lives in doctors. There was a study that was done where they interviewed doctors and doctors believe that Black bodies can actually take pain, can take more pain than white bodies. So what that means is that when a Black person is complaining about a pain, doctors are trained to believe that they are either acting or that their pain is not really real, so they under-prescribe medication. Now, that has deadly consequences for people, but these are things that are part of the philosophical structure of America. These things that I’m talking about existed and were talked about before America became America. These things started when America was a colony of England.  

So absolutely, these ideas, these philosophies that have been now woven in and around through our legal system, woven in around and through our economic system, woven around through our medical system, and if we don’t slow down and examine it, we just keep operating as if that thing is standard.  

Dominic Lawson: Resmaa, kind of keeping with the same vein of sports, I know on Instagram you recently gave some commentary by Naomi Osaka on protecting her mental health withdrawing from a major tennis tournament. Kind of talk about that a little bit, if you don’t mind.  

Resmaa Menakem: Yeah, bro. So, there were actually two things that I was talking about. One of them was people were going at sister Raven-Symone because she was talking about how she was losing weight and doing these particular pieces and then there was also the gymnast — sister Biles, right? — who basically got no coverage around her. The amazing person and the amazing athlete that she is, but people were giving coverage to the idea that this YouTuber fought and not fought, that wasn’t a fight. He got into the ring with Floyd Mayweather. Then this sister Naomi Osaka, and what I said was that whenever the Black body says that it has dominion over itself, or steward over itself, because the white body collective has not done the work to usher in a living embodied anti-racist culture and practices, what ends up happening is that there’s a reflexive response.  

So, when sister Naomi said, I am going to take care of it, have stewardship and dominion over my own body. Therefore, I am saying that to interface with the press causes me harm and causes me pain. What she said was, is, that I have been dealing with mental health stuff as it relates to that so I am going to make choices about that. One of the choices that I am going to make is to say that I am not going to do news briefs and conferences after I play because it is injurious to me. The response from the tennis world goes from people who call themselves our allies, right, like Billie Jean King and other commenters said, “How dare she do that? She is letting the sport of tennis down.” And that is because the collective white community, even our allies, are not used to seeing the Black body have dominion over itself.  

So, when she said that in order to take care of herself and they said, “Well, we’re going to fine you,” she said — and I thought it was a beautiful, beautiful thing she did — she said, “I have to decide the choice between clean pain and dirty pain. I can override what is happening for me and just go and play and that would be dirty because I would have to carry that when I’m done. So what I’m going to do is choose clean pain, not pain and no pain but clean pain. And that is the choice to consider myself first.”

Now, here’s what I think people miss: The reason why she was able to do that is because she had people behind her, she had a community. She had people that said, whatever you do, we got our arms around you and you are important and you are not defective and we expect you to make decisions based on the fact that you are not defective, which means that you’re considering that your mental health is something that should also be on the table, that you need to act like that is important, and she did.  

That is dangerous to the structure. It is dangerous to the structure that Black people, brown people, Asian people, indigenous people begin to say, “I value me,” because in this structure, brother, it is relatively new that me and you could be up here talking the way that we’re talking and have some surety that probably there is not a lynch party waiting for us upstairs or outside of our doors, right? It is relatively new, that the Black body has any dominion over itself. So that is not just a problem for Black people or indigenous people. That is also a problem for white people because white people expect our deference. They expect us to move off the sidewalk. They expect us not to say things that are going to make them uncomfortable, not unsafe but uncomfortable.  

All that has to happen in a larger white collective is for a Black body to kneel on the football field quietly and he loses his job. And that Black body will lose access. That Black body will lose stature, that Black body making white bodies uncomfortable. That Black body could lose its life. And we all understand that.  

Dominic Lawson: We absolutely do. I’m pretty sure our audience definitely understands exactly that point. Resmaa, you are a Senior Fellow here at The Meadows and we are embarking on –  

Resmaa Menakem: And I love it, and I love it. I love working with you all.  

Dominic Lawson: We love working with you as well, and we’re embarking on that year of learning, something that you require when you work with organizations. Kind of talk about that, your learning that process and those reps that we’re going through.  

Resmaa Menakem: Yeah. Can I ask you a question, brother?  

Dominic Lawson: Sure.  

Resmaa Menakem: What are you gaining? What’s opening for you? What’s closing for you as you’ve been through this? What do you notice happen?  

Dominic Lawson: I’m noticing a lot of empathy, if you will, I’m noticing a lot of checking in, if you will. Me and Kerry, you’re familiar with Kerry? 

Resmaa Menakem: Yeah, that’s right.  

Dominic Lawson: We had a very good conversation about two days ago about just understanding not just her perspective to her, but also the opposite side. One of the things you talk about in your book is how there are certain white bodies that have trauma that need to be dealt with as well. But that’s kind of what I’m experiencing right now.  

Resmaa Menakem: Yeah. And so that’s the reason why I do the year first, right? Organizations, what they want to do is they want to have you come in and they want to have you fix stuff, right? Not grow a culture, but come in and fix stuff. Right? And so let’s get people just to talk about it. Let’s get people to just have better feelings about it. That goes back to that thing I was saying earlier about kindness and niceness. The white collective thinks that kindness and niceness is more important than building culture. So the reason, why do the year first, is to create a container so as you begin to talk about these pieces, as these things begin to come up and people feel comfortable coming up with these things and things get surfaced, what ends up happening is that if it was just me coming in, training you all that first year, what happen is that when things didn’t happen or didn’t go the way that you all thought they should go, you would then blow all of that through me saying that I was a failure. I failed, I didn’t do it right because people are uncomfortable or people are not happy.  

Well, that’s different now when I have 100 people going through it with me, those people are developing synergy with each other so, therefore, when we bring the rest of the organization in, I have 100 people behind me that are actually working with those 100 then maybe, or with the other people, and then maybe something new in terms of the culture can emerge through. But if it’s just me, then all of that stuff goes through me. That’s why I do the first year where it’s really basically container-building. It is saying, “let’s get through some reps with each other first, let’s develop the kind of communal glue with each other so when we bring others in, there is also already a container that’s already built on living embodied anti-racist practices and culture, right?” Otherwise, the onus will fall on me or just a handful of people.  

Dominic Lawson: I think that’s important. I think it’s important for our audience to hear that. I appreciate that, Resmaa. About two more questions, I’m going to let you go. Thank you so much for coming on the Beyond Theory podcast. We really appreciate your value and your time. I want to ask you this because I know that, like I said, you worked ground zero at the Minneapolis police department, you were very vocal during the Chauvin trial, and I remember somebody asking you during that time how you are feeling, but you told him to ask, “How are you sleeping?” So, I want to ask you, since we’re kind of removed from that a little bit, “How are you sleeping and eating these days?”

Resmaa Menakem: It’s still rough, man. Black people still are getting shot unarmed. Kids are still being hurt. Just found out up in Canada, 215 children’s bodies at a boarding school. Bones, 215 indigenous babies. My eating is off. I have, some of my routines are off in terms of exercise and stuff like that. I have never had a belly. And COVID, I put on so much, COVID, man. My wife keeps walking past me, squeezing my belly. She goes, “This is nice. You ain’t never had a belly before.” It’s making me start to do two-a-days again.  

So, I’m trying to get to some type of balance, brother, but the brutality, it doesn’t stop. I’m not where I was a couple weeks ago, but I’m still armored, bro. I mean, the fact is that the Chauvin trial is over — the sentencing isn’t over yet, but the Chauvin trial is — and then we got three more to go. So, I’m still armored up, and so I think it’s going to be a minute before — I mean, there are times I’m actually letting my wife hold me now, not just physically, but just hold me and look at me and check in and rub the back of my neck and just look at me like that. I was rebuffing that for a while, and I’m not doing that as much anymore. So, it’s still rough, man.  

Dominic Lawson: I completely understand that for obvious reasons, Resmaa, and I get it. What can we possibly hope for over the next year or two, in your mind?  

Resmaa Menakem: Hopefully, I think in terms of The Meadows, I think my hope is that people continue to, especially the 100 that I’m working with, people continue to get the reps in with each other. They continue to deepen the practice, right? People think that they can just come to, sometimes, like, I’m working with a group of 800 people and some of them think that, okay, all they have to do is just attend the sessions with Resmaa. Right? That in between, like, doing the reading and doing your trial. I tell them — I just had to say this the other day — I said, “If you are not doing that, you’re not doing somatic abolitionist work. If you are not reading, if you’re not meeting with your triad, if you’re not doing the soul scribing, if you are not doing that, you’re not doing somatic abolitionist work. You’re faking it, it’s performative, right? The depth is the practice. The depth comes in being witnessed, being observed, sharing. That’s how you deepen the sense of it in the body. Otherwise, it’s a book club. Otherwise, it’s just coming and eating some sourdough bread and swapping each other’s jelly recipes. You have to rep, you have to do stuff.” So, it is my wish and my hope, and I know some of us being done, but that the sense of the practice gets deeper. So that’s what I would say.  

Dominic Lawson: Resmaa, I just want to say it’s been an absolute honor to have you on the Beyond Theory podcast. Thank you so much, brother.  

Resmaa Menakem: Brother, thank you so much. I appreciate you. Keep doing what you’re doing, brother.  

Dominic Lawson: I’ll try my best.  

Resmaa Menakem is a New York Times bestselling author and a Senior Fellow here at Meadows Behavioral Healthcare. He has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil and is the leading voice in today’s conversation on racialized trauma. Find out more about him at resmaa.com. Beyond Theory is produced and hosted by me, Dominic Lawson. You can discover more including videos of some of our conversations at beyondtheory.com. For more information on Meadows Behavioral Healthcare, go to meadowsbh.com. Finally, thank you for listening and I hope you join us next time for another episode of Beyond Theory