Reviewed in the United States on November 25, 2018
Resmaa Menakem’s, in My Grandmother’s Hands, with humility, delivers a beautifully written story, a page turner that I couldn’t put down, that is at first disguised as an easily accessible book on trauma but is actually no less than a clear step-by-step process for ending racism, class prejudice, oppression and violence in all its forms.
“Trauma-informed” is everywhere now – and thank god that is the case. Van Der Kolk’s Body Keeps the Score got the physiological processes of trauma out there in a big way. His recommendation however was for people who have experienced trauma, some combination of medication, therapy and yoga could heal them. Van Der Kolk falls short though in that he is focusing on people who have experienced trauma with a capital T, like rape, or war, or car accident – these people know that they have experienced trauma, which is only the tip of the iceburg. His #metoo-ing not with standing, I’d say read it, or at least listen to his interviews. Then read My Grandmother’s Hands. You’ll need some understanding of how the mind and body are a single entity to join Menakem, as he brings his lucky readers to the epistemological root of the trauma problem. That we are all carrying inherited cultural trauma and if we don’t begin to heal ourselves, we will just continue to blow it through each other, through our kids, through our grandkids, white, black, rich and poor. And blow it we do.
You’ve probably also got to get yourself out of your head with all of this. If you don’t understand what I mean by that or when I say that Descartes got it wrong, you may want to stop reading. However, Menakem is way more patient and generous than I am. Which is probably my privilege talking – no it is my privilege talking. His exercises move us into our viscera, although I would argue that only the worst of the wounded are willing to go to this place, it takes practice to feel where we feel offended, or scared, or entitled. He brings us to the bridge between mind and body and in that bridge ushers his readers to acknowledge and name their bodily sensations. In so doing, epoche’ happens, that is, the old patterns are briefly paused and new learning can emerge.
Unfortunately, healing involves pain he points out, but so does refusing to heal. Over time, refusing to heal is always more painful. Menakem, reminds us of just how painful and violent this refusal to heal manifests in the black skinned bodies of Trevon Martin, Sandra Bland, Philandro Castillo, a never ending list. Yes, this book needs to be read. Whether it was an event or multiple micro aggressions that we endured, or it was second-hand trauma, or inherited or intergenerational, left unhealed, only exposes more people to our trauma. It ensures that our children will repeat our history – they will have no choice, it is in their DNA.