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Oct 5, 2021

In this episode of the Beyond Theory podcast, host Dominic Lawson interviews therapist and author Resmaa Menakem about the concept of somatic abolitionism and its crucial relevance to healing racialized trauma and advancing mental health equity. Menakem, drawing on his experience as a trauma specialist, explains how racism and white body supremacy inflict deep psychological and physiological wounds on bodies of culture (his term for non-white bodies), and how this trauma is passed down through generations and lives in the body even when it has left the conscious mind.


Menakem argues that undoing the harms of racism requires somatic abolitionism: an embodied anti-racist practice that addresses racial trauma as it lives in the body, not just intellectually. He critiques declarations of allyship without sustained action and emphasizes the need for white people to commit to a lifelong, operational practice of anti-racism for collective healing.


The conversation highlights the very real mental health impacts of racism, which Menakem links to outcomes like higher maternal mortality and low birth weights in black women and babies. When Menakem tells Lawson "you are not defective," Lawson feels the message land in his body, illustrating how the traumatizing effects of racism get somatically internalized.


Key takeaways from this episode on somatic abolitionism and racialized trauma, optimized for SEO and a behavioral health audience:


1. Racism inflicts profound embodied trauma on BIPOC individuals and communities, with mental health impacts passed down through generations.


2. Somatic abolitionism is an approach to healing racial trauma through embodied anti-racist practice, addressing the ways trauma lives in the body.


3. Undoing racism requires a lifelong commitment to operational, action-oriented anti-racism, not just intellectual understanding or declarations of allyship.


4. The trauma of racism has measurable physiological and psychological effects, such as higher maternal mortality and low birth weights in black women and babies.


5. Somatic healing modalities are crucial for addressing the embodied nature of racialized trauma and promoting holistic mental wellbeing for BIPOC individuals.


6. Recognizing and treating the mental health harms of white supremacy and racism is an essential responsibility for behavioral health professionals committed to health equity.


7. Collective healing from the wounds of racism requires us to confront the traumatizing lie of BIPOC defectiveness and affirm the inherent wholeness of all individuals and communities.


For behavioral health professionals and anyone committed to trauma-informed mental healthcare, this episode is a powerful call to confront the embodied nature of racial trauma and embrace somatic healing modalities in the fight for psychological liberation and wellbeing, especially for BIPOC individuals and communities. Menakem's work challenges us to recognize racism as a public health and mental health crisis demanding our most holistic, sustained, and embodied response.