Embodied Social Justice

Written by Rae Johnson

Reviewed by Nancy Eichhorn

A story to start, to illustrate potent nuances that, without awareness, perpetuate inequality outside our conscious intentions. And to thank Dr. Johnson.

Reading this book, I realized the subtle ways in which I have experienced being in a position of power and being overpowered. I understand what it’s like to be in charge and to be subjugated in a cognitive sense; what I didn’t quite get was my own bodily experience of feeling oppressed or feeling powerful. Reading the narratives, experiencing these women’s stories as well as learning about Dr. Johnson’s ‘Cycle for Embodied Critical Learning and Transformation’, which was designed to help participants “grasp and transform the experience of oppression in their body” (pg. 117), I now have a template to conceptualize and experiment with as I connect with a bodily sense of my day-to-day experience.

My Story

I was reviewing an essay from a regular writer for this issue (Winter, 2018). Emma writes from Bristol, UK. I edit from Carmichael, California, USA. We both speak English. We both write using what we call the English language. I, however, conform to the Americanized version. As usual, I automatically changed spellings so that words like realised (British version) were corrected (in my mind) to realized. After editing and noting comments for revisions, I was just on the spur of sending Emma the essay when I realized/realised that my changing the spelling because it did not conform to my system, well it was oppressive, it created an “imbalance in social justice” to cite Johnson. Changing the spellings sent the message that my way was the right way; it became a matter good and bad, of right and wrong. Having read, and honestly still in the process of reading Johnson’s book, I felt how my power as the editor and publisher of this magazine overrode another human being’s way of spelling words that, in Emma’s country, were perfectly legit. I noticed, for the first time with this much intensity, that I have power; whereas, most of my life I’ve felt powerless, the underdog with little to no control in my life or the lives of other people. This sense of imbalance jolted me from a state of oblivion to a reality such that I emailed the author, explained what happened, shared my reflections. I then revised all those spellings back to their original state of being.

Status Quo

It is amazingly simple to remain unaware. To hear news stories, commentaries on blogs and news-feeds about social injustice and simply brush it aside. There’s this notion that life, worldwide, is not fair. Racism and gender inequality exist. The controversy about changing gender identifications and bathroom use is but one of many examples stirring up emotional responses. Even pronoun use has moved beyond he and she, her and him. I was struck when reading Johnson’s book and came across the use of the word ‘they’ in the biography:

“Rae Johnson, Ph.D., RSMT, is a queer-identified social worker, somatic movement therapist, and scholar working at the intersection of somatic studies and social justice. They chair the Somatic Studies and Depth Psychology program at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California.”

My initial reaction was like, well that’s weird. Then I thought it must be a copyediting error. But in reading this book I realized the error was mine. Staying rooted in my sleepy world, stuck in my status quo, I was not accounting for radical changes happening around me that need to happen within me, present, awake, aware. To honor Johnson’s language, I will use ‘they’ and ‘them’ in place of she and he and her and him respectively.

To cite a clear nutshell that serves the best interest of this book:

“Embodied Social Justice introduces a body-centered approach to working with oppression, designed for social workers, counselors, educators, and other human service professionals. Grounded in current research, this integrative approach to social justice works directly with the implicit knowledge of our bodies to address imbalances in social power. Consisting of a conceptual framework, case examples, and a model of practice, Embodied Social Justice integrates key findings from education, psychology, traumatology, and somatic studies while addressing critical gaps in how these fields have understood and responded to everyday issues of social justice.”

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Rae Johnson, PhD, RSMT, is a queer-identified social worker, somatic movement therapist, and scholar working at the intersection of somatic studies and social justice.  They chair the Somatic Studies in Depth Psychology doctoral program at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, California.

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