Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience by Sheila Wise Rowe

Summary: Trauma is real; some of that trauma is based on racism or white supremacy; the hard work of healing is essential, not just for individuals but also for communities and future generations. 

I have recently joined a Be The Bridge group. Part of the method of the group is to acknowledge history and lament that history. I was asked to do a short presentation on lament. Because I had meant to anyway, I started re-reading Soong-Chan Rah’s Prophetic Lament. The opening of Prophetic Lament was helpful, but I was seeking out other resources and saw the chapter on Lament in Healing Racial Trauma. After I finished that chapter, a friend commented about how helpful she found the book as a whole and how she was leading a small group through the book. So I decided to move the book up on my list.

Part of being slow to pick up Healing Racial Trauma is my identification of racial trauma primarily with racial minorities. Most of the examples of this book are of racial minorities, but that does not mean that this book is not for those with less melanin. The strong theme throughout the book is that healing is not only for yourself (although it is that as well) but also for your community and future generations. Breaking cycles is tremendously hard, but if we want healthy communities, churches, institutions, and families, we have to do the work of breaking cycles. That means that we have to do the hard work of internal healing, which is related to communal healing.

The chapters are similar in approach, there are several stories which carry through each section, and the topic is illustrated through actual people. The chapters are Wounds, Fatigue, Silence, Rage, Fear, Lament, Shame, Addiction, Freedom, and Resilience.

When my friend recommended the book, she said that she did not think that many White people understood that minority communities often have more pressures than what is perceived from outside. That is best illustrated by this paragraph from the book:

The research of Dr. Sherman James into health disparities among African Americans identified a coping mechanism used to combat ongoing psychosocial and environmental stress, stigma, and racism. Dr. James reported that when people are “‘really trying to make ends meet going up against very powerful forces of dislocation—their biological systems are going to pay a price,’ he said. ‘That’s the situation African Americans have been in since the beginning,’ he added. ‘Now we’re seeing other groups begin to be exposed to these same forces.’”10 Dr. James named the John Henryism Hypotheses after his patient John Henry Martin, who rose from being a sharecropper to become a wealthy farmer with seventy-five acres of land. Like the mythical John Henry of folklore who died of exhaustion after beating a mechanical steam drill, Dr. James’s patient also paid a hefty price for overworking. His patient was afflicted with hypertension, arthritis, and a severe peptic ulcer, and his physical health continued to decline. Dr. James developed the John Henry scale to identify those who have physically suffered as a result of their constant striving.

Part of the importance of lament is rightly recognizing reality. If we do not acknowledge rightly, we cannot lament, and that lack of lament perpetuates the problems through our silence. As the book says, “Elie Wiesel says, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

The adage, ‘hurt people, hurt people’ is true. Children and youth that are exposed to violence or are direct victims of violence are more likely to have ‘increased depression, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, homelessness, and poor school performance.” But estimates are that only 2-15% of any age receive victim assistance, and that percentage tends to be lower among Black victims. I don’t want to talk too strongly about trauma only around violence, but that is an area where I think it is possible to see injury without as much controversy.

Personally, the big takeaway for me is that lament and acknowledgment is not just important to recognize that problems or disparities exist, but that they are a step toward action and healing, or as Sheila Rowe says, “Activism is often a byproduct of lament.”

Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience by Sheila Wise Rowe Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook

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