What it feels like inside the work – politicised somatics and racial justice
I’ve been thinking about the need for somatics to address the safety and belonging needs of the mandem and to cultivate new generative practices.
As systemic abandonment, neglect, abuse and the murder of people of the global majority continue to run rampant, we need movements that understand what systems of racial oppression cause us to embody. Knowing that, I’ve been reflecting on how my positionality and social conditioning as a Black working-class man affects my healing in different contexts – and the accessibility of earnest connection to social justice work, community and the self for Black men and masculine people.
The ends is the only place I’ve ever felt any sense of belonging, but it is also the site of terrible traumatic, dangerous memories for me. These experiences are still living in my body. To this day, if I walk past some police patrolling, or if I have forgotten my method of payment in a hostile establishment, or if I’m in the ends and there are lots of young men gathered together at the back of the bus, there’s a trauma response in my body from all of the times that these experiences have meant immediate danger for me. I often freeze or dissociate in the moment and have to remind myself that I’m safe.
The combined, repeated stress injuries of racism, deprivation and interpersonal violence in my past, present and (likely near) future have been barriers to my somatic practice. The journey of reconnecting with my body has been difficult, and it feels like I’ve had to constantly retread the same ground of reminding my nervous system that it’s in a safe place and there’s no immediate threat to respond to.
As I’ve slowly felt through the concepts, my discomfort, disconnection and misunderstanding of somatics in connection with racial justice have gradually fallen away. Self-knowing has helped – checking in, getting to know what my body needs, connecting with the non Eurocentric lineage of these practices, and doing them in community. Somatics offers an opportunity to expand our embodied movement, allowing more of us to give each other permission to thrive, feel free and take up space with our bodies. It also allows us to be better allies and support systems for the movement as a whole through nurturing accountability, self awareness and collaboration.
To quote Farzana Khan: “Oppression steals away our capacity to be living… to access joy, love, and connection. We arrived at somatics as a political strategy to offer each other life.” Somatics is a political strategy – for movements, for the ends, for all the people dem.
We need resilience and replenishment of our capacity. Capacity can mean having more options and coping skills, having a wider bandwidth, having enough energy to keep trying, and being able to access that ineffable internal quality that motivates us. It takes some honesty and moving past discomfort with fallibility.
The mandem have been exposed to the harm of hyper policing/surveillance, symbolic violence, material deprivation, dehumanisation and interpersonal violence, and it’s in our bodies. Ron Dodzro talks about the trauma experienced by young, Black men due to witnessing or being directly involved in violent activity and suggests many are walking around with unaddressed PTSD. We are being battered by the conditions, made to feel unworthy or unsafe within our bodies. Stuck, insecure and unsure of what choice to make. Violence is believed to be in the very nature of (particularly racialised) masculine existence – and it’s not because our nervous systems are any less vulnerable to it. A lot of us are very fearful of of the various violent ways we’re policed and socially stigmatised, of each other, and of navigating the exigencies of financial insecurity. That dysregulation can certainly turn into all sorts of unhealthy behaviours and outcomes.
The times when I feel most open to contributing to radical work is when I’ve been able to recover from this internal wearing down. Patriarchal dominant culture tells us that healing and care are frivolous, unimportant and for women to be concerned with, not us, rather than the important universal work of self knowing. In the context of violently racist institutions and unresponsive, stigmatising health systems, we need politicised somatics to do this work.
Somatic work for me has been incredibly important to my ability to step up and be accountable and leaderful. It has given me space to imagine, give more energy to social justice work, get to a place of being able to move through difficulty and offer spaciousness to others. Yusef Bakkali tells us that, for the mandem, our experiences of social exclusion and pain can lead to us being ‘seduced by the possibilities offered by contemporary projects of the self’ rather than alternative choices. These are the direct effects of trauma and injustice that those of us working in social justice need to address. Given the context of trauma, in tandem with neglectful and unresponsive health systems, it’s clear that the path for the mandem to move into being able to make choices from a centred and accountable place is through doing somatic work.
Join me on Wednesday 22nd February at 7pm GMT in conversation with Nkem Ndefo, Temi Mwale, Melz Owusu and Rebekah Delsol to talk more on The Power of Somatics for Racial Justice.
About the author
Alex Augustin (he/him) is Media and Communications Coordinator at Healing Justice London. He has been a communications professional for several years, with previous roles in non-profit and other sectors… Read more