You Are Your Best Thing | Tarana Burke

Summary of: You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience
By: Tarana Burke


In ‘You Are Your Best Thing,’ Tarana Burke offers a groundbreaking exploration of vulnerability, shame resilience, and the Black experience. Collaborating with Brené Brown, Burke brings together moving stories of Black individuals dealing with systemic racism and confronting trauma. This book summary highlights key themes, such as the significance of the Black community’s struggle, the search for self-worth, mental health, and the importance of emotional vulnerability. Discover inspiring personal narratives that showcase the indomitable spirit of the Black community in spite of the oppression faced daily.

Black Trauma and White Supremacy

In response to the protest movements sparked by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Black activists took to the streets to fight against white supremacy. However, Tarana Burke noticed that the conversation was focused on making white people less racist, overlooking the impact of continued racist violence on Black people. To address this issue, Burke collaborated with Brené Brown to create an edited collection of essays about how Black people experience shame, vulnerability, and trauma. The book reveals how harmful internalized shame can be and argues that everyone is worthy of joy and connection, but it fails to acknowledge that Black people often aren’t allowed to be emotionally vulnerable in society because of the real threats they face. The personal stories from Black artists, intellectuals, parents, and activists in the book share how they cope with the trauma of systemic racism daily and create fulfilling lives despite it. Brown’s participation in the project made her work more relevant and inclusive. She joined the project on the conditions that Burke would be listed as first author, and her share of the profits would go towards supporting Black storytellers. Overall, the book’s key message is that Black experiences of shame, vulnerability, and trauma are closely tied to white supremacy.

Black Parenting in America

The fear and joy experienced by a Black parent in America amidst racism and violence.

As Austin Channing Brown looks at her son in the mirror, she sees a miniature version of Trayvon Martin, a teenager murdered for wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Living in a deeply racist country, a Black parent’s sense of foreboding joy is different from what Brené Brown describes as an individual affliction that therapy can fix. For Black parents, it is a reflection of the dangers their children experience on a daily basis. However, Channing Brown refuses to give up on joy and instead balances happiness and pain, fear and love, kissing her son on the top of his head and relishing the moment. To be a Black parent in America is to fear for your child’s life, and this book highlights the complexities of experiencing foreboding joy amidst racial violence.

Breaking Free from Internalized Oppression

Tanya Denise Fields, a survivor of domestic violence, realized that shame caused by internalized oppression was keeping her from living the life she deserved. She understood that she embodied racist beauty standards and stereotypes about Black women, which led her to feel unworthy of respect, love, and joy. But she found the courage to confront her beliefs and trauma, share her experiences on social media, and build a community of fellow survivors who supported her. Fields moved into a shelter for domestic abuse survivors and then into her own apartment, where she created a happy and secure family home. By rejecting shame, she tripled the operating budget for the organization she founded, the Black Feminist Project, and connected with people around the world through her cooking show and public appearances. Her story shows that dismantling the racist systems designed to shame you is essential to finding a sense of self-worth and creating a life full of purpose and joy.

The Failures of the White Medical Establishment

In this book, Kiese Laymon recounts his experiences with seeking medical help for mental health issues. He describes how his fear of white doctors and hospitals, borne out of a lifetime of harmful experiences, has prevented him from seeking help. When he finally went to see a cardiologist, Laymon was dismissed as “fine,” even though he felt that something was seriously wrong. A quick Google search led him to the realization that he was suffering from a common condition that the doctor had failed to diagnose. At every turn, Laymon encounters a medical establishment that is hostile, racist, and unable to see him as a person in need of help. These experiences reflect the larger systemic failures of the white medical establishment to provide adequate care for Black Americans.

Embracing Healing and Connection

Prentis Hemphill learned to assimilate and conceal their true self during their schooling years, concealing a violent and traumatic background and striving to fit in. However, embracing their identity as Queer allowed for healing and accepting their family’s intergenerational trauma. Through somatic therapy and joining a community of people who voiced their pain and anger, Hemphill learned to relax their defense mechanism and be seen authentically.

Unraveling Church Betrayal

Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts narrates her experience of sexual abuse and betrayal within the church community. The author highlights that the older women, who failed to support her during her trauma, were passing on their survival mechanisms, shaped by racist and patriarchal Western beliefs. She emphasizes rethinking the institutional support of the church and making it a place of love, intergenerational healing, and encouragement for women to be their authentic selves. The key message is that church should be a sanctuary instead of a place of shame for Black women.

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