“We will not end white-body supremacy—or any form of human evil—by trying to tear it to pieces. Instead, we can offer people better ways to belong and better things to belong to.” — Resmaa Menakem
I step into my office almost daily. Candles line my windowsill, one too many mugs sit with various amounts of coffee drippings, and books are piled next to my green armchair. My pristine beige leather sofa sits against the far wall, facing two large bay windows, where clients share their insides, see me, or watch the waters come and go.
The narrative group I lead is part of a larger cohort. We are unpacking the intersection of racial and sexual trauma. If it sounds daunting, it is. I hear my first mixed race trauma story and immediately know something is missing. Trained primarily in the realm of sexual abuse and trauma, I recognize there is a certain place where Western psychology and theology runs out of runway in engaging repair, binds, and perpetrators (or oppressors). We name them, and categorize them, but don’t often look for healing—we never get to the redemption.
After the narrative group experience, and weeks after attending lectures showcasing racial trauma as sexual assault, my body shakes. It reels, dizzy and confused. Scanning my notes from leading thinkers on sexual trauma, I carefully observe the differences and similarities of racial trauma and sexual trauma. I ask a colleague, “Do you think racial trauma and sexual trauma are the same? Can they be addressed the same?”
Many trauma body responses feel similar. Resmaa Menakem states, “The body, not the thinking brain, is where we experience most of our pain, pleasure, and joy, and where we process most of what happens to us.” It makes sense that different types of trauma have similar feelings in our bodies, and some categories of trauma undoubtedly overlap.
However, I consider my mixed race children who endure racialized stereotypes, slurs, and bullying. Would I consider them to be sexually abused by their peers and teachers? According to the broad, sweeping category of racial trauma as sexual abuse, I would have to say yes. I sense the dangers of these categories.
Is it a betrayal to my Western education to say that addressing racial trauma needs an additional category outside of sexual trauma and abuse? Sexual harm and racial harm are not synonymous, and thus, they cannot be addressed the same. Yet, the musings of Western psychological theory around sexual and racial trauma rarely address trauma in the body, nor the particularity of the healing required to address that trauma.
Although the problem is urgent, harm also comes by contorting our bodies to fit into healing spaces or by conforming to conclusions and extrapolations from other theories (like sexual abuse theories) in our attempts to heal from racial trauma.
In honor of the ways racialized harm affects different bodies of culture, healing practices must come from places of culture and ethnicity, not race. Dr. Dan Allender often talks about addressing the particularity of sexual harm in our minds, bodies, and spirits in order to be witnessed. The same is likely true with racial trauma work. Additionally, with sexual trauma and abuse, it is extremely rare for any healer or therapist to ask the victim to re-engage the perpetrator. Redemption is often a solo act.
In a racialized society, to “tear it (white bodies) to pieces”* only further perpetuates the dehumanization of others and bodies of Culture. It isn’t an individual process. A robust theory of repair, theology of binds, and pathways that engage our bodies in the “reps” it takes to heal in community—both in affinity groups and in diverse groups—are found in the collective, not just an individual.
Revelations 7:9 honors all bodies and cultures—it’s an invitation to the belonging Menakem talks about.
The more diversity of thought, cultural language, and ethnic embodied practices, the more ways we find the beauty of the Imago Dei.
Father Gregory Boyle observes, “Jesus says, ‘You are the light of the world.’ I like even more what Jesus doesn’t say. He does not say, ‘One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you’ll be light’…No. He says, straight out, ‘You are light.’ It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it. So, for God’s sake, don’t move. No need to contort yourself to be anything other than who you are.”
When I see the world through my eyes as a mixed race, Mexican-Indigenous-German woman, I see that I do not need to move or contort—and that my children do not need to move or contort. Our many cultures and ethnicities are meant as a way to understand redemption and repair. These cultures that live inside of my bones mend the binary binds of our racialized world through the ways in which they are different.
Danielle S. Castillejo grew up in the swirl of a mixed identity, with a German father and a Mexican mother. With her four children in school full time, she applied to graduate school at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Before her second year of graduate school, she was invited to explore her story through a Story Workshop at The Allender Center. She went on to complete Levels 1 and 2 of the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care and the Externship. Since our culture has experienced such an intense ripping and cultural identity crisis, Danielle addresses internalized racism and its effects personally, in her family, and in her community. She encourages other healing practitioners to do the same. Danielle began this process with her MA in Counseling Psychology and studies at The Allender Center. Danielle loves the anticipation of spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest, with the return of long days and sunlight absent in the dark winters. You can easily find Danielle out on a trail or working in her yard. You can also find her online at www.daniellescastillejo.com.