Soul Scribe Six: Response to Resmaa Menaken’s “Healing Racialized Trauma”
Below is one of my journal entries (#6) in response to the body work a group of us are doing under the guidance of Resmaa Menaken’s therapy book called My Grandmother’s Hands.
Soul Scribe 6
Resmaa concludes 98 pages in which he has uncovered the pattern of white body oppression, accurately disclosed its origins historically, and suggested healthy ways of addressing it with the following formulation:
“Two centuries ago, there was a deliberate strategy behind these fantasies [white fragility, black body invincibility, the need to suppress black bodies]: It helped destroy solidarity between Black and white farmhands; created bonds between rich land owners and poor white workers; and enabled everyone to tell at a glance who was to be feared, who was to be served, and who was to do the serving. This strategy created a set of standards for how people were to interact and be with each other. Thus, over time, white-body supremacy became the standard order ofthings.
“Historically, the myth was most visible on (but not limited to) plantations where enslaved Africans served as cooks, wet nurses, nannies, and victims of sexual exploitation by white plantation owners and their families. We continue to see it just as systematically today — in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and childcare centers, where a high percentage of caregivers are Black. It is also no accident that, in the twenty-first century, large numbers of African Americans work as cooks, private-care nurses and aids, and prostitutes” (98).
From this moment on (p99) Resmaa descends into a whitewashing of the present social system under which we live; he utilizes revisionist history (that is, he utilizes male supremacist and white supremacist fantasies) to justify his whitewashing; he relies on Western psychological schemas; and his suggestions for resolution of the major social ills he uncovered in the first 98 pages become further and further removed from practical applicability:
P102 “Americans of European descent have histories that demonstrate great courage, ingenuity ability, achievement, and resilience in virtually all aspects of life but one: their relationship with African American bodies…
“White Americans, like Americans of all skin colors, have successfully grown thick emotional skins when they needed to. Americans rebelled against and defeated the British in the American Revolution. We defeated our foes in two World Wars. We won the cold war with the Soviet Union. We Americans, including most white Americans, can be extremely strong and resilient when we want to be.”
This formulation, or, these formulations contain within them all of the above-mentioned shortcomings of a-historiography, male and white fantasies, utilization of Eurocentric psych frameworks, and otherwise wholesale whitewashing of reality:
(1) Humanist definitions of “ingenuity,”“ability,”“achievement” and “resilience” are rooted in: the needs of the people. The Indigenous definition does not find the “invention” of the atomic bomb to be “ingenious.” Womanist definitions of “ability” and “resilience” do not include the annihilation of 6 million Vietnamese in an imperialist war. Internationalist definitions of “strength” and “courage” do not include such things as the leveling of the city of Fallujah, the annihilation of 400,000 people in this city in four days by drones, and the subsequent “governance” of the rubble by robots.
“In virtually all aspects of life…” these ways of America are anti-all-life on planet Earth;
(2) To reduce the ills of the system of US imperialism to “[except for] one: their relationship with African Americans,” is to commit the convenient whitewash of all the other crimes against humanity committed concomitantly with the on-going genocide being committed against African Americans. It always benefits the male supremacist/white supremacist project of US imperialism to reduce things to Black and White. Millions of Native Americans were wiped off the planet. That somehow plays no role in the spirit of this country today? Hmmmmm. I don’t think we can leave that out. It is part of the current spiritual and practical disposition of this country today. The US has been at war every year since World War II, committing genocide against the peoples world-wide. This is taking place at the same time as it oppresses African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Chicanos, Dominicans, Chinese, Native Nation peoples, Hawaiians, other Americans of Asian descent and Eskimoes inside the territorial boundaries of this country. Reducing it to Black and White always supports the whitewashing of history. I am African American. The white supremacist project is designed to enslave my people in perpetuity, and ultimately to destroy us. This does not blind me from recognizing that this project is about enslaving and destroying all of humanity. To miss this is to collude in the white supremacist/male supremacist project.
(3) What does “White Americans, like Americans of all skin colors, have successfully grown thick emotional skins” mean? [First of all, this is redundancy and phrase mongering: “growing thick skins” is a metaphor for becoming tough emotionally. Adding the word “emotionally” to the metaphor is redundant.] It is Western psych nomenclature for White Americans’ “ability” to numb out while participating in the “winning” of two World Imperialist Wars for redistribution of the colonies of Asia, Africa and Latin America among the imperialist powers; and to numb out during the “winning of the cold war” through annihilating Koreans, Vietnamese, Nicaraguans, Grenadians, Peruvians, Panamanians, Indonesians, Algerians, Congolese, Mozambicans, South Africans, Zimbabweans, Sudanese, Somalis and Namibians. It means that “we” “other” “Americans” are numb to our own annihilation and subjugation during these “victories.”
(4) “We defeated our foes in world War II.” Hmmmm. My Uncle Winfred Lynn was imprisoned during World War II for refusing to fight in a segregated army, an army he saw as being identical to Hitler’s army. My father was his attorney as his case went to the US Supreme Court. There, our African American “hero,” Thurgood Marshall, predated Clarence Thomas and voted to maintain segregation as “The way we’ve always done it.”
(5) There has never been a more violent country than the United States of America in the history of humankind. There has never been a more violent nation than White America in the entire history of the world. (see, James Baldwin, On Being White… and Other Lies, and https://medium.com/@alexandersjeunity/the-most-terroristic-organization-in-the-history-of-humanity-e22321f4ac04). Western psychology, like all things Western, loves to separate, and compartmentalize categories like “healing,” or “mental disorder,” or even “white body supremacy,” on one hand, from the political and economic system, on the other. Separating one (the presenting illness or the healing from such) from the other (the political and economic system) only benefits the preservation of the decadent political and economic system. While healing, we must always and simultaneously mobilize against the present political and economic system and fight for a new, just, righteous political and economic system.
P116: “Policing has become more and more like soldiering. In some communities, police forces have transformed from community servants into occupying forces.” ??? Which year did Resmaa immigrate into the United States? Political and activist organizations across the spectrum of ideologies and belief systems in African America throughout this country have long identified the police department as an alien occupation force. This formulation was widespread in the early 1960’s.
Malcolm, 1964:“Any occupied territory is a police state; their [the troops] presence is like occupying forces, like an occupying army… They [the police and National Guard] are in Harlem to protect the interests of the businessmen who don’t even live there.”
“Police are no longer expected to act” like professionals who protect and serve (p117). “They must instead act like soldiers. It is not a role police have been trained to fulfill.” And what training do you believe is appropriate for US soldiers? “Neither is it a role that offers much job satisfaction. It rarely reflects officer’s reasons for becoming public safety professionals in the first place” (117). Which police does Resmaa know? For many, if not most police, the reason for taking the job at the outset is that you get carte blanche immunity to shoot unarmed Black people in the head. To quote Leonardo Dicaprio’s character in “the Departed,” “The reason for joining the police is so that you can bash a n#*#…’s head into your cruiser window.”
Resmaa is focusing on the fear that is in the bodies of police — the fear of Black bodies. He situates this fear partly in the oppression which the white supremacist system has meted out to Americans of African descent over the centuries. What he fails to establish is that when European states went to Africa to kidnap, murder and enslave Black people, it was not out of fear; it is out of greed and for economic gain.
When European invaders annihilated the Native population of the Americas, they did not do this out of fear. It was out of evil, not fear. Stealing land is very profitable for capitalists, and it is the principal way in which they gained political power — by means of war, a war of apocalypse, a war of annihilation. Have you ever noticed how White historicity fails to name the invasion of Native America and the genocide committed against Native America what it was: a war? Resmaa gratuitously offers that most Native Americans died of diseases, not from direct warfare (p73) — hmmmmm, who does this formulation benefit? Most grade school students today know that in addition to the use of guns in their military onslaught, the Pilgrims deliberately used germ warfare to kill off Native Americans through disease. Unlike Africans who had much more experience with the type of farming required on the plantation, Native Americans were far less suited to survive the conditions of slavery. For this and many other reasons, Native Americans were unable to survive the chattel slavery apocalypse (chattel slavery is war — the slaver nation against the enslaved nations and peoples) to the same degree as African Americans. This war waged by the White America nation and the country called the United States of America against the nations and peoples of Native America largely took the latter off planet Earth.
That had nothing to do with fear:
The nature of capitalism is that it only defines itself by what it is against — communism, socialism — because its nature is so venal, so self-centered. So, when Europeans and Euro-Americans carried out their campaign of genocide against Native Americans, it wasn’t only to steal their land and their buffalo herds, and their gold in the Black Hills. It was to destroy a competing communal ethic which is completely opposed to the ethic of capitalism. In Indigenous culture, people who horded things for themselves were despised. Either everyone ate or no one ate” (Chris Hedges, speaking on Coronavirus, March 28, 2020)
And, as the Pilgrims continue to march down the settler road today (in Occupied Palestine, in Australia, in New Zealand, in Ferguson, MO, in Los Angeles, in Miami, in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan — https://medium.com/@alexandersjeunity/the-pilgrims-are-still-on-the-settler-road-a6bd3d85920b), they do so, not out of fear. They do so as an act of greed; they do so acting out of hatred; they do so acting out of the pragmatic strategy of augmenting their capital. Dumping tons of crack on Black communities around this country was not done out of fear. It was done for profit and for continuing enslavement in another form. When, following the Great Detroit Rebellion of 1968, the US military dumped tons of heroin into Detroit, they did not do this out of fear. They did this to subdue the rebellious, to put down the rebellion, to punish us for rebelling, and to make it so that we could not continue to rebel. Fear was low on the totem pole of the motivating factors for the U.S. military in this operation.
P123 “Are American police officers now sanctioned to shoot dark bodies at will, with a tacit understanding that saying ‘I was scared to death’ in court will exonerate them?” What country has Resmaa been living in? The most problematic thing for Resmaa’s formulation is that he agrees that they are murdering us because they are scared of us. That is simply not born out by the facts. That White cop who murdered Tamir Rice did so because he was scared of this twelve-year-old? No. When they performed a gallows hanging of Sandra Bland in her cell (after jailing her for having a faulty tail light — she didn’t have a faulty tail light) did they do this because they were scared of her? That’s nonsense — otherwise known as whitewashing. When they riddled Amadou Diallo with 41 bullets (because “they thought his wallet was a gun” — he didn’t take his wallet out, that too was an outright lie), they did not fire the last 40 shots out of fear (nor the first one). When they murdered Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard, they did not do it because they thought his phone was a gun — he wasn’t holding his phone, it was in his pocket. (https://medium.com/@alexandersjeunity/ten-questions-for-npr-fd8a823efd04).
Resmaa is approaching historical accuracy in the following observation, p124: “The list of incidents [of police murdering Black people] is long… [T]his contempt for the wounded or dead Black body can be traced through many centuries. But it began in medieval Europe for white bodies, not Black ones. It was in the New World where this disdain shifted, from mutilated and murdered white bodies to mutilated and murdered dark ones.”
To be more accurate, humans began systematically mutilating and murdering each other with the split of society into social classes, with the emergence of patriarchy and the system of male supremacy; with the emergence of private property. To trace the origins of the white supremacist project, Western civilization itself is the history of Europeans first oppressing each other — the slave owning class oppressing the enslaved — Western civilization, the system of social classes, emerged approximately 2,200 years ago.
The white supremacist project began shortly after medievalism (9th to 15th centuries), when the exploitation of European labor began to reach its socio-economic limits, and the export of capital began. With the export of capital came the colonialist system — the export of exploitation from Europe to Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Resmaa is correct in situating the mutilation and murder of dark bodies with the emergence of the colonialist system following the demise of medievalism in Europe. He is not correct in situating the origin of the mutilation and murder of white bodies in medieval Europe (10th century AD to 15th century AD.) In this rendition of the past, he is repeating what male supremacist/white supremacist — capitalist — US historians have been teaching us in grade school history classes for the past two centuries.
Class oppression emerged with the system of social classes. Ruling class Europeans (the slavers, the aristocracy, the landlords, the feudal hierarchy) began systematically oppressing lower class Europeans (the enslaved, serfs, peons, etc.) when the system of social classes overcame communalism/indigenous European social systems over 2000 years ago in Europe. (Social classes emerged in other parts of the world before Europe. We focus on Europe, because the class system that has endured and dominated the world since was what they call Western civilization, originating in Europe.) As every school child knows if they think about it, Western civilization “endured and dominated” through war, through force of arms. There is nothing — by human standards — “courageous,” “ingenious,” or “thick-skinned” about this.
When Resmaa resorts to white supremacist and male supremacist versions of history, he leaves you and me (and the large majority of humanity) out of the conversation.
P129: “[O]ver the past two decades, the policing imperative in many American communities has morphed from protect, serve, and keep the peace to control and shoot.” Where has Resamaa been living over the past fifty years? At what time in our history has the policing imperative been to protect and serve? Where was Resmaa fifty years ago when the entire Black Panther Party was imprisoned, exiled or murdered? Let us not forget that the Black Panther Party was born of the rebellions of the 1960’s. What was the birth ground of these rebellions? The murder by police of unarmed Black people. If we do the numbers, it may have been more frequent then than it is now?
In the last page of chapter 9 (p132) Resmaa reiterates Pavielle’s adjuration (“We aint free”) in the following formulation: “Healing does not occur in a vacuum. [In other words, it is not an individual matter.] We also need to begin mending our collective body. This mending takes place in connections with other bodies — in groups, neighborhoods, and communities…”
First of all, our ancestors had knowledge regarding healing and its relationship to the whole — the body of our people. Harriet Tubman was a spiritual warrior. As the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text makes clear: “If it’s not practical, it’s not spiritual.” Harriet Tubman was a guerrilla warrior. This isn’t metaphorical. She was the greatest military mind of her time (https://medium.com/@alexandersjeunity/moses-was-a-guerrilla-9ae170b57014), and the guerrilla actions her battalion of over 1,000+ x-enslaved Africans prosecuted during the Civil War were arguably the determining factor of the Union Army’s victory. Chattel slavery was not overcome by meditation…only.
Jim Crow was not overcome through meditation and prayer…only. Malcolm was a spiritual warrior — a devotee of Islam. He did not, Western psych-style, try to separate his spiritual convictions from the need to free ourselves from an oppressive political and economic system. He adjured us that,
…you and I can best learn how to get real freedom by studying how Kenyatta brought it to his people in Kenya,… and the excellent job that was done by the Mau Mau freedom fighters. In Mississippi we need a Mau Mau. In Alabama we need a Mau Mau. In Georgia we need a Mau Mau. Right here in Harlem, in New York City, we need a Mau Mau. I say it with no anger. I say it with careful forethought. We need a Mau Mau.”
In addition to healing, we must not separate such from the need to fight the political and economic system which is set up to destroy us, all humans and life on planet Earth. We must be rooted in community building, in nation building. We need to be engrossed in community organizing, in responding to the collective body needs.
As we sit in yet another crisis, we are informed by our history: White people are pulling their hair out, wringing their hands, “Heavens to Betsy.” We have never not been in crisis — that is part of what defines us as a people; it is central to our history. We must gird ourselves in our ancestry’s practice of standing against this apocalypse — a practice with a 500+ years’ legacy. We must be rooted in this practice. We must stand in our resilience. I say to you with careful forethought; I say to you without anger, but with a sober understanding of the tasks in front of us: In Boston we need an organization of revolutionaries. In Dorchester, we need an organization of revolutionaries. In African America we need a People’s Liberation Army.