T(t)rama Llama

Blogpost #1

Seeking Truth in Bodily Trauma

This trimester, T(t)rauma Llama chose to engage the book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness written by Michelle Alexander. An arduous task for any graduate student. The question brewing just beneath the surface as our group began to dialogue about our chosen book this week was this: What is going on in my body? Navigating the tough road of theology, systemic injustice, and racial trauma is not easy. Especially, coming off of an already heavy few weeks engaging the works of Resmaa Menakem and Shelly Rambo, wherein we read how the work of mending bodily wounds inherited from racial violence in America, otherwise known as “white-body supremacy”¹ can lend itself to collective healing, and the fruit of what is gained when we remain close to Holy Saturday,² respectively.

For many of us in the group, getting through the introduction to Alexander’s book was plenty in order for us to begin to see that America has never truly operated outside of a racial caste system. It is quite feasible to trace a direct line from American Slavery, to the Segregation/Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights Movement, to the present era of mass incarceration and the reign of police brutality (otherwise known as the Neo Crow Era).³ This was news to some of us in the group, while others remained painfully aware of America’s desire to declare success in a post-racial society.

This week, we ended with special attention paid to the tension each of our bodies held as we navigated through the complexities of learning and tending together. The naming of our individual experiences lies in the words and phrases, below:

Adrienne — I came into this world with generations of untold stories. I approach the readings thinking about how the traumas and stories of past generations have affected me, in particular in my body.

Anders — Despite waves of emotions and discomfort, I believe it is possible and essential to stay present and engaged in relationship and conversation, willing to listen to the stories and realities of those who experience racism and oppression as we collectively long for justice and peace.

Jodi — I’m trying to stay close to my embodied experience, to be curious about the embodied experience of others, and to listen closely for the silent, shame-filled stories in my body that need to surface and be spoken of.

Jon — As challenging as it is to confront the ugly reality of how things actually are, I believe it’s necessary. As uncomfortable, scary, and painful as it feels in the moment, the cost of entering into these conversations is so much less than not entering into them. I hope to listen well, to others and my own body, and engage with humility, empathy, and honesty.

Felicia — Our bodies are telling us that there are different experiences of being American that don’t match the American history that we have been taught. Michelle Alexander writes as a black woman and unveils the reality of America through the lens of mass incarceration that disproportionally affects black males. And yet it reveals the ‘elisions’ that we felt about our American reality but did not know, as people who are not black males. We are still in Holy Saturday, but a post-racial America wants to claim an Easter Sunday that is not yet.

Keone — Within my Filipino history, I understand that America wanted influence in Asia so places like Hawaii, Okinawa, and the Philippines were places of American bases. With this in mind, I am not surprised much by white people in power saying they are doing things for the good of others just to protect their businesses and interest. History just seems to repeat itself in both the Philippines (1902), Hawaii (1893), and over black bodies (war on drugs). I come into this place with both the idea of colonizer and colonized…

Mercedes — What keeps me motivated is twofold; 1) Knowing that the work I put in now will create forward movement for other womnx POC’s that come after me, and 2) The discovery of something else possible for folx that hold the tension of being biracial in a racialized America.

Endnotes:

  1. Resmaa Menakem, “Your Body and Blood,” in My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies (Las Vegas, NV: Central Recovery Press, 2017), 10.
  2. Shelly Rambo, “Witnessing Holy Saturday,” in Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) 45.
  3. Resmaa Menakem, “Assaulting the Black Heart,” in My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies (Las Vegas, NV: Central Recovery Press, 2017), 74.

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Chelle Stearns

Chelle Stearns

Associate Professor of Theology at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology