A Collaborative Definition of Healing Justice

Reviewing: Healing Justice Lineages by Cara Page & Erica Woodland

I have been so excited to read Healing Justice Lineages, a project I heard about last fall that finally documents the work of healing justice in a relatively comprehensive volume that practitioners can use as a jumping-off point for further exploration into this rich, multigenerational and multi-layered movement. Healing justice is a complex lens that has deeply inspired me for a number of years, but I generally have heard about it in workshops, books on more specific topics, podcast episodes, movement spaces, and so on. This new anthology makes the philosophy and the movement more generally accessible and provides both a broad history as well as provocative questions and challenges for present and future practitioners.

Though I don’t think a single definition of the term is ever given, appropriate for the collective nature of this movement, editor Cara Page and contributor Tamika Middleton describe healing justice as arising in the context of the Kindred Collective from a vision of “community-led healing practices as a political strategy that seeks to intervene and respond to collective trauma, burnout, and violence in our lives and our movements.” Healing justice is explicitly opposed to the medical-industrial complex, simultaneously holds and transforms trauma, centers BIPOC voices and experiences, and prioritizes collective care. It is rooted in history and ancestry, and the editors describe it as a community-led response, emergent process, spiritual framework, cultural strategy, and political strategy with pillars of “transformative justice, disability justice, reproductive justice, environmental justice, and harm reduction rooted in abolition and anti-capitalism.” Breaking it down further, key concepts illustrated by Claudia Lopez include Black liberation, bodily autonomy, interdependence, sacred relationship to the earth, abolition, indigenous sovereignty, religious and spiritual freedom, decolonization, Global South movements, and self-determination.

Editors Cara Page and Erica Woodland both contributed substantial chunks of their own writing to this book, but also sourced essays from a number of other movement voices. I’m reminded of other recent titles that focus on radical history praxis and contextualizing movements (Abolitionism. Feminism. Now. being one example), providing information about some of smaller local organizations and movements that might otherwise be lost to history alongside a lot of context around how themes, people, and organizations connect. Many of the essays in this collection are broad in scope to document the movement in this way, while others are narrower and provocative. I can see using the book as a reference volume or a treasure map, to guide further exploration into the specific stories cited here.

These contributions document legacies of harm and violence as well as many of the organizations, movements, and individual healers who have struggled to practice a different way of being in community context. These histories predate the use of the term healing justice, but segue into what it looked like for organizers to theorize and practice healing justice in the early 2000s, including state challenges to doing so and how this work has intersected with politics, public health, catalyst moments like Hurricane Katrina, and other forces. Contributors from specific sites of practice around the so-called United States describe how local efforts in their regions have both flourished and ran into resistance and internal challenge, while others write about a specific pillar of healing justice and their experiences in that sphere of the work.

The contributors to this volume do a lot of dense conceptual and philosophical work, challenging the reader to consider all the various ways healing justice has been co-opted, misunderstood, stolen, or countered by harmful mainstream narratives. One of the key aims of this volume is to delineate what healing justice is not, and how its radical impulse is compromised by inappropriate use of the term. These essays surface BIPOC understandings of healing, harm, and spiritual technologies while challenging the ways healing gets watered down by a consumerist culture that centers white individualism. For example, the word “healing” itself gets a challenge for its association with healthism in one essay by Shira Hassan, and several contributors question whether the current popular focus on intergenerational trauma and epigenetics is insufficiently rooted in the origins of these movements.

I was actually working on a blog post before reading this book about how I use healing justice in my work, and it was the book that encouraged me to stop using the term! While I’ve been heavily inspired by the concept, and found a lot of connections between the principles and practices of healing justice and how I write and teach, this volume makes clear that healing justice is always rooted in movement work, practiced collectively. An individual practitioner cannot be a healing justice practitioner, without being deeply connected to and accountable to broader movements. I appreciate this clarification, and how confusion has arisen in myself and others who’ve heard about the movement and extrapolated it to our own context because of our excitement about all the pieces of justice and liberation work it pulls together and how we relate ideologically to or participate individually in those movements.

While I certainly long for this kind of community practice, and hope to one day be connected to some of the groups and organizations cited in this book whose work I’ve been following for years, it’s important to be honest about where we are in the present moment. This book clearly delineates how healing justice differs from other practices, and how broadening its use waters down its effectiveness as a movement. “We need an organized base of practitioners, more practitioner networks, and more healing justice projects. What we don’t need more of are individual practitioners moving from a healing justice framework without being accountable to a base or movement.” Heard! Healing justice is a critical part of my lineage, but not a part of my practice.

Perhaps what struck me most was how many connections are made here. The editors and contributors cut broad swathes across intersecting topics, presenting rich ground for discussion—you’ll learn about how the house music scene provided an oft-overlooked spiritual space for processing queer Black grief around the AIDS epidemic, for example, and how sex workers’ movements for harm reduction were sanitized and narrowed by public health officials to the point of being unrecognizable.

One essay on history especially made my brain sing as it documented a chronology of how humanity has been criminalized through intersecting campaigns of hate that I’ve studied or personally experienced and have matched up in bits and pieces over the years, but not even thought to comprehensively map. This chronology spans from colonization to criminalizing sex work to anti-immigration to racist drug laws to Jim Crow to the Ugly Laws that criminalized disability, showing how all forms of criminalizing difference are interconnected under the umbrella of colonialism and racist capitalism. I also couldn’t help but notice how healing justice cuts across many of the challenges I remember living and advocating through, from the global gag rule and the Hyde Amendment to the evolving models of disability and community care. While healing justice itself arose out of BIPOC organizing in the South in the 2000s, these technologies and practices have been forming over centuries in resistance to criminalization of difference and wholeness.

I’d recommend this volume for anyone who uses the term healing justice, is curious about its origins, or just wants some inspiration around resisting the state, racist capitalism, and colonization. This collection will particularly appeal to healing practitioners of all kinds and to movement organizers who are looking for connections and a sense of rootedness in history. It’s also critical reading for those who may want healing justice included in their nonprofit organizations or other efforts without a deep understanding of what this term actually means, including its firmly abolitionist nature. While not all of us can claim to be practitioners of healing justice, I think we can all be inspired and challenged by it, and see the necessity of supporting these movements as they emerge and flourish.

ARC provided through NetGalley. Purchases using the above link support me, as well as local bookstores!


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