Healing Racial Trauma
eBook - ePub

Healing Racial Trauma

The Road to Resilience

Sheila Wise Rowe

  1. 192 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (adapté aux mobiles)
  4. Disponible sur iOS et Android
eBook - ePub

Healing Racial Trauma

The Road to Resilience

Sheila Wise Rowe

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À propos de ce livre

2020 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award - Multicultural2021 Christianity Today Book Award - Christian Living/Discipleship AwardPublishers Weekly starred review"People of color have endured traumatic histories and almost daily assaults on our dignity. We have prayed about racism, been in denial, or acted out in anger, but we have not known how to individually or collectively pursue healing from the racial trauma."As a child, Sheila Wise Rowe was bused across town to a majority white school, where she experienced the racist lie that one group is superior to all others. This lie continues to be perpetuated today by the action or inaction of the government, media, viral videos, churches, and within families of origin. In contrast, Scripture declares that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made.Rowe, a professional counselor, exposes the symptoms of racial trauma to lead readers to a place of freedom from the past and new life for the future. In each chapter, she includes an interview with a person of color to explore how we experience and resolve racial trauma. With Rowe as a reliable guide who has both been on the journey and shown others the way forward, you will find a safe pathway to resilience.

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They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
We are tired of having our checks cut off without warning or investigation because of malicious gossip and lying officials! We are tired of hostile social workers and supervisors!”1
On the afternoon of June 2, 1967, The Mothers for Adequate Welfare, a group of poor Black and a few White mothers staged a protest at the offices of the Public Welfare Department on Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Hastily handwritten flyers were taped to telephone poles and shop windows inviting the community to join in the protest.
The sit-in was peaceful even after the mothers, unable to air their grievances, refused to leave. They spent the night in the foyer huddled together on the grimy linoleum floor. The next day things quickly took a turn for the worse after the mothers aired their demands but received no promise of redress. The mothers wrapped a bicycle chain around the handles of the glass double entry doors to prevent the police from entering and the staff from leaving. The police called for reinforcements. A mass of uniformed officers arrived and smashed the glass to reclaim the building.
One of the mothers shouted from an open window, “They’re beating our Black sisters in here!” The police dragged the battered but still defiant mothers out of the building, down granite steps covered in blood and shards of glass, and threw them into awaiting police vans. The crowd outside erupted and rushed the police, who in turn indiscriminately clubbed and arrested people. Despite pleas for calm from local church leaders and community activists’ word of honor, the unrest spread throughout the community. A riot ensued across ten blocks of Blue Hill Avenue.
For several decades Southern Black folks carrying suitcases full of prized possessions fled poverty and threats of lynching to pursue the elusive dream of a better life in Western and Northern cities like Boston. By the early 1960s, turbulence and race riots plagued much of the country yet bypassed Boston. The city had a self-congratulatory air because its predominantly African American community of Roxbury exercised restraint while other cities burned. Everything changed that humid day in June.
I was seven years old at the time. That night in my aunt and uncle’s apartment, I watched the nightly news report bearing witness to mothers treated like chattel and an agitated crowd cursing and hurling rocks at the police. The reporter said the violence would likely carry on throughout the night. As we watched in stunned silence, suddenly we heard someone pounding on the front door. I hid nearby but within earshot as my uncle barked, “Who is it?” He unlatched the deadbolt, and on the other side of the door stood my dad, Robert Wise, dressed in black. His speech was halting as if he had run a road race: “We don’t have to take this crap anymore. Come on; let’s go beat up some Whiteys.” My uncle declined, and with a dismissal of his hand my father bolted down the stairs. I spent the night listening for the front door to open or a floorboard to squeak upon Dad’s return. Eventually, he made it home safely. Perhaps he shared with my mother (also known as Momae) what happened that night, but not a word was said in my presence.
The rioting carried on for three days, as over one thousand demonstrators armed with rocks, bottles, and matches clashed with police officers armed with guns and billy clubs. When the smoke cleared, Blue Hill Avenue looked like a war zone strewn with debris and charred apartment buildings and storefronts. I wondered, Was Dad partly responsible for the devastation? Years passed before I knew of the deferred dreams of my dad and the depth of his well of trauma, grief, and rage.
In a 1968 speech titled “The Other America,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointedly remarked, “In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.”2 Dr. King’s remark is as relevant today as it was back then.
The recent deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of the police, the immigration crackdown, and the rise in White supremacists have led to protests across the country, and inner cities still burn. I believe that riots are also the language of the unhealed.
When God says, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14), he acknowledges that he sees and knows that we bear wounds that have not been taken seriously. Although there is significant research on the social, economic, and political effects of racism, little research recognizes the emotional and physical effects of racism on people of color.3
Proverbs 13:12 tells us: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” In his potent poem “Harlem,” written in 1951, Langston Hughes gives another view of the impact of life without hope when he asks: “What happens to a dream deferred?” Langston shows how we may watch it die, live with it as an open wound, or express it outwardly as rage.


People of color have endured traumatic histories and almost daily assaults on our dignity, and we are told to get over it. We have prayed about the racism, been in denial or acted out in anger, but we have not known how to individually or collectively pursue healing from the racial trauma.
We need healing and new ways to navigate ongoing racism, systemic oppression, and racial trauma that impairs our ability to become more resilient. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or to “work through them step by step, and bounce back stronger than you were before.” In relation to racism, resilience refers to the ability “to persevere and maintain a positive sense of self when faced with omnipresent racial discrimination.”4 Resilience is not an inherited trait; how we think, behave, and act can help us to grow in resilience.
In this book you will meet a few people of color along the way and read their stories of oppression, healing, and resilience. I am one of them, an African American woman, author, speaker, trauma counselor, and also a survivor. The others are not random people of color but dear friends and family members whose stories carry lessons for us all. The fact that we are a diverse group is countercultural. Historians have revealed that from the earliest days of First Nation genocide and the enslavement of Africans there has been a concerted effort to keep people of color separated and to develop a caste system of sorts. Rather than seeing the commonality that we have as people of color, we have been grading whose experience is worse. In his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “When Pharaoh wanted to prolong slavery, he kept the slaves fighting among themselves. Whenever the slaves got together that was the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.”5
We begin our journey with the assurance from Matthew 1:23 that “God is with us”—Emmanuel. He comforts the brokenhearted and heals and binds up our wounds (Psalm 147:3). As you read this book, my invitation to people of color is that you might experience your own life story affirmed and acquire new solidarity with other people of color. Also that you will obtain tools to help heal your racial trauma and to persevere on the road to resilience. My invitation to White folks is to be open to however these stories may challenge you to be a better friend and ally to people of color. Perhaps you will hear echoes of your own trauma that you need to address. My hope is that this book will lead you to greater empathy and activism.
People of color know that racism and racial oppression is real. We’ve felt the sting of each racist incident whether it was overt or covert, intentional or unintentional. Yet we’ve often been unaware of the full impact of the racial trauma that remains. It’s important that we clarify exactly what racism and racial trauma are and how they affect us.


Racism comes in different forms; it’s pervasive and involves more than just the hatred of people of color. Racism is prejudice, discrimination, antagonism, or the systematic oppression of people and communities of color. In Psalm 139 we read that all humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Yet racism declares the lie that one racial group is superior to all others. This myth is perpetuated by the actions or inaction of the government, churches, families of origin, the media, and viral videos. The lie is accompanied by gross generalizations and caricatures of the “other.” Local and global inner cities are sometimes depicted as godless hellholes, Black women as always angry, and young men of color as suspects and predators. In the world and within the church some people uncritically ingest these distortions, and there are dire consequences. People of color face an ongoing struggle against racism that is interpersonal, systemic, spatial, environmental, internalized, or that involves White privilege.
Interpersonal racism. The most commonly understood form of racism is interpersonal racism. This involves a person demeaning and degrading the gifts, calling, motives, and body of a person of color. There is an underlying belief that the gross generalizations are valid, and as a result some people have permission to participate in or silently witness prejudice, discrimination, or racism.
My ancestors languished under the horrors of slavery and the segregation laws in Virginia, and their lives were devastated by interpersonal and systemic racism. My great-granddaddy James Coston also experienced interpersonal racism. Although he had limited formal education because the Colored schools only went up to the seventh grade, he was self-taught. Great-Granddaddy read the newspaper to stay on top of current events and engaged in lively exchanges with Whites in front of the five-and-dime. However, the ominous cloud of interpersonal racism hung over each encounter. Granddaddy never knew when the precipitation would turn to sunshine or lashing rain and thunder. The White people in the town called him Coston, but more than he’d care to count he was called “boy” or “nigger.”
Systemic racism. Systemic racism manifests institutionally or structurally. Institutional racism is defined as “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origin.”6 Institutional, structural, and systemic racism is perpetuated in schools, medical facilities, housing, financial services, government, employment, courts, law enforcement, and the military. Systemic racism not only fails to provide equitably but has the power to subjugate people and communities of color and actively hamper their forward movement.
At five years old, my dad’s young life was torn apart by institutional racism as tuberculosis ran through Accomack County, Virginia, and soon visited his home. There were no hospitals for Black folks; medical care consisted mostly of home remedies. Dad’s childhood soon ended as he watched his paternal grandfather and uncle die and his father’s health decline. After months of coughing and sweating, his dad passed away. As the number of TB cases rose in the Black community, the state finally opened a TB hospital. Before the year was over, my dad also lost his mother and baby brother. Dad and his younger brother, Edward, were taken in by Granddaddy James and Grandma Mary, their maternal grandparents, who raised the boys as their own. The trauma of losing so many family members haunted my dad.
Granddaddy James was steadfast in his belief that faith in God, education, and economic independence were keys to freedom for Blacks. Granddaddy instilled this love in his grandsons. He and his brother opened a general store in the Black community located on the outskirts of town. They purchased goods from local White suppliers, and soon the store was well-stocked and flourishing. Black folks no longer needed to go into town to shop at the White-owned stores and hurry back before the sunset curfew. My dad and his grandparents experienced institutional racism firsthand: within a year the White merchant association in the town petitioned the supplier to stop selling goods to Granddaddy, and without stock, his store closed. For the community the closing of the store had more meaning than just an economic attack on one man. It was the death of a symbol and a promise of autonomy and prosperity. But other more ominous symbols were allowed to remain.
Public space racism. For decades people of color like Granddaddy were force-fed symbols such as Confederate Civil War statues, flags, and plaques prominently and proudly displayed in town and the state capital. Sometimes, the racial terror symbol was a burning KKK cross in a field. These symbols represent public space racism in which metacommunication, a conversation happening beneath the surface, determines who is dominant, who is worthy, and who belongs. Today, battles are occurring over removing these artifacts and placing them in museums, where they belong.
Spatial racism. Dominance is also communicated through spatial racism—spaces and structures are purposefully designed to divide or change the demographics of communities. For decades highways, railroad tracks, and inaccessible areas visibly separated the rich and poor, and White folks and people of color. Because of the recent influx of White folks returning to cities, there’s been a push to remove these structures to make cities “more livable.” This has disrupted some economic centers of people of color; with gentrification they’ve been priced out of their neighborhoods. In 1987 the removal of the elevated Orange line train in Boston resulted in fewer commuters and customers in Dudley Square, a Black hub, which caused businesses to close and folks to move away. Although Dudley Square is now experiencing a renewal, some wonder if it will ever return to what it once was.
Environmental racism. Environmental racism is a collective form of racism that affects poor communities and those of color. These communities are disproportionately exposed to air, water, and chemical pollutants and also denied the same high-quality municipal services that White communities receive. Flint, Michigan, for exam...

Table des matiĂšres

  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Dedication Page
  4. Contents
  5. Foreword by Soong-Chan Rah
  6. 1 Wounds
  7. 2 Fatigue
  8. 3 Silence
  9. 4 Rage
  10. 5 Fear
  11. 6 Lament
  12. 7 Shame
  13. 8 Addiction
  14. 9 Freedom
  15. 10 Resilience
  16. Acknowledgments
  17. Genogram
  18. Group Discussion Guide
  19. Glossary
  20. Notes
  21. Praise for Healing Racial Trauma
  22. About the Author
  23. More Titles from InterVarsity Press
  24. Copyright