This week’s letter is from Krista Tippett:
Here in Minneapolis, the street corner where George Floyd died with a police officer’s knee on his neck has become a sacred space of neighborliness, protest, bearing witness, lament, eating, bicycle repair, praying, mural-making, and singing. An alternative landscape of care has risen up amidst burned-out buildings, and it is teeming with young people. These pictures are not shown as constantly by drones and journalistic cameras as the pictures of destruction. But they are as true, and they matter as much. What is not covered seriously enough by journalism in crisis mode is often precisely what can save us: the redemptive landscape on which the work of the rest of our lifetimes is emerging.
Resmaa Menakem is a teacher and visionary in this city, though I only became aware of his groundbreaking work a few months ago. Just before the pandemic sent us into lockdown, I sat across from him in our studio on Loring Park. He watched me as closely as he listened to my words. He caught me bracing at the term “white supremacy,” and taught me that noticing such bracing is exactly where I have to begin to live differently. He’s drawing on knowledge we’re just now gaining about systems and processes in our bodies that we’re only now learning to see: vagus nerve, psoas muscle, trauma, epigenetics. He draws a stunning connection between generations of trauma that white bodies inflicted on each other in the centuries we call the Dark Ages and the generations of horrific trauma inflicted on black bodies in the “new world” of America — which, as Langston Hughes wrote, "never was America to me." We are all literally carrying – breathing, reliving, and so repeating — much that didn’t happen to us personally. It’s one way to finally grasp why talking about race, and “teaching our brains to think better” about race, has fallen brutally, tragically short: “The vital force behind white supremacy,” Resmaa Menakem writes in his extraordinary book My Grandmother’s Hands, “is in our nervous systems.”
This conversation, and the intelligence and practical tools it offers, has become more precious to me with every day that has passed. I’ve drawn on theological language already in these paragraphs — confession, redemption. I’m also finding the notion of “repentance” newly meaningful lately. Like so many other important sacred practices, we have taught this too much as inward, private work. But the word itself in the biblical Hebrew and Greek is kinetic. It is about stopping in your tracks and walking in another direction. What Resmaa Menakem offers are practices for training and sustaining our bodies — and thus our souls — in moving in this wholly new direction.
At the On Being Project right now we are listening, and listening again, to Resmaa as well as others who’ve been teaching us in recent years and to whom we will turn for new wisdom in this time. We’re trying to carry our questions with as much humility as we carry what feel like insights and answers. So for this week’s Living the Questions I’ve turned to my wise, esteemed beloved colleague Lucas Johnson, whom you may have heard on the show before, and who is now leading our growing social healing team. This is the evolution of the Civil Conversations Project, and it has moved to the forefront of our calling and service — as we discern the role a “media and public life initiative” can play in the remaking of the world that is upon us.
I am grateful to have Lucas and all of my colleagues, and you — our audience that acts like a community — walking alongside me through this extraordinary opening to transformation. “If we were treating the United States as though it were a country that just emerged on the other side of a ceasefire after a decades-old civil war, then we would be talking about rebuilding a society,” Lucas said to me in our conversation this week. “We would decommission the police forces and the institutions that were involved in human rights atrocities. We would talk about what institutions need to be built that can regain the public trust. We would envision what it would take to build this country that has not yet been. And I think that’s the scale on which we need to be imagining.”
This Week at The On Being Project
Our Latest Episode
On Being with Krista Tippett
“‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence’”
The therapist and trauma specialist with old wisdom and very new science about our bodies and nervous systems, and all we condense into the word “race.”
Living the Questions
“When no question seems big enough”
Feeling mostly anguish and inadequacy; can anyone use the word “we”? And how do we begin walking forward? Talking this through with Lucas Johnson.
Recommended Listening and Reading
Read | Race and Healing: A Body Practice
Find a quiet place and experience this short, simple body practice offered in Resmaa’s conversation with Krista on this week’s On Being.
Listen | “The World Is Our Field of Practice” with Rev. angel Kyodo williams
Krista’s conversation with the Zen Buddhist priest and author of Radical Dharma also touches on the work of “noticing” that Resmaa speaks about in this week’s show.
Read | “What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege” by Lori Lakin Hutcherson
This essay offers up the author’s experience moving through the world as a Black woman to open up a conversation about privilege.
Listen | “The Heart Is the Last Frontier” with Isabel Wilkerson
A conversation with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist on the Great Migration as a carrier of untold histories and truths.
You can find more listening and reading in our onbeing.org Library “Race & Healing.”