If you have a body of culture:

According to White-Body Supremacy, all nonwhite bodies are subpar, insufficient, inadequate, deviant, less than fully human, and, above all, defective. For centuries, this message has been passed from person to person and generation to generation, damaging every body (especially any body of culture) that absorbs it. This message has been reinforced through our institutions of education, religion, medicine, criminal justice, government, and many, many others.

As a result, many American bodies of culture are caught in self-doubt or self-recrimination. Some struggle with impostor syndrome, in which they doubt their own skills, talents, and accomplishments and live in fear of being exposed as frauds. Many routinely discount or ignore their own needs and experience, while attending to those of others. Some let other people take credit for their work, their insights, and their achievements.

I don’t just see this in my therapy office. Even being a mega-celebrity doesn’t necessarily extinguish it. At times, Opray Winfrey has struggled with self-doubt and with putting other people’s needs above her own. In 2018, shortly after the publication of her best-selling memoire, Michelle Obama said, “I still have a little [bit of] impostor syndrome. It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously.”

Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey are not defective. Neither are you. Any inferiority, worthlessness, or self-doubt you experience is not personal. It’s structural.

The body practice below will help you and one other person shed this lie.

Do this practice with another body of culture you trust. It’s best to do it in person, but you can also use Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc. If it’s not possible for you to do this practice with someone else, you can be your own witness.

Sit silently in a quiet room together – just the two of you – for about ten breaths. (If you’re reading this during a pandemic and you are not both vaccinated, wear masks, and sit at least six feet apart.)

You will speak first; your companion will be your witness. While you speak, they should simply watch and listen. They can nod or grunt or say umm-hmm, but they should not coach you, speak to you, or touch you.

Say to them loudly, clearly, and firmly: “I am not defective.”

Pause for a few seconds. Then say it again, but add your name. For example: “I, Angela, am not defective.” Pay attention to your body as you speak. Experience the vibration of the words throughout your body.

Pause for a few more seconds. Now cover your ears with your palms and press down lightly. Say the words once more – for example: “I, Angela, am not defective.” Experience the vibration throughout your body again.

Remove your hands from your ears. Nod to your witness. They now say to you, clearly and firmly, “You are not defective,” and they add your name. For example: “You are not defective, Angela.”

Sit together in silence for five more breaths.

Now switch and repeat the entire practice, with your companions speaking and you becoming their witness.

Afterward, if you like, soul scribe[1] about what you experienced in your body. Note any:

  • vibrations
  • images and thoughts
  • meanings, judgments, stories, and explanations
  • behaviors, movements, actions, impulses, and urges
  • affect and emotions
  • sensations

[1] Soul scribing simply means pausing, paying close attention to the vibrations; images and thoughts; meanings, judgments, stories, and explanations; behaviors, movements, actions, impulses, and urges; affect and emotions; sensations your body experiences in that moment, and then noting those experiences in writing. Soul scribing help you access information from all of your body’s intelligences…. You can soul scribe using brief notes, lists, or your own personal shorthand. This might include abbreviations, emojis, pictures, or whatever else you like. (If you want to be more detailed – for example, if you want to keep an embodied journal or diary – that’s fine, too.)

Resmaa Menakem in The Quaking of America