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Book Review: Sheila Wise Rowe’s Healing Racial Trauma

Throughout the pages of Sheila Wise Rowe’s Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience, I could feel the pain locked inside the stories of so many people. I could hear their cries and feel their anguished souls. And yet, because of Jesus and the forgiveness and resilience he offers, readers can choose hope and work for peace and reconciliation.

Holding a master’s degree in counseling psychology, Rowe has ministered to abuse and trauma survivors in the US and homeless, abused women and children in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has also taught counseling and trauma-related courses.

Throughout her book, Rowe paints a disturbing yet helpful picture of racial trauma and its effect on different people groups. We peer into the lives of African Americans, Japanese Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native peoples, Black South Africans, and people of mixed ethnicity.

Of the many stories included, Nori’s stands out to me. Right after Pearl Harbor, Nori’s grandparents and family, all Japanese Americans, were forced out of their home and told they would enter a relocation center. In reality, the relocation center was a cold, desolate prison camp. In the years after it was closed, racism continued with signs being posted on houses saying, “Japs Keep Moving, This Is a White Neighborhood.” Nori’s dad bore all this in silence, leading to increased drinking and domestic violence as he started a family of his own. Nori’s family dysfunction took a toll on him for many years.

But then Nori became a Christian during high school, and his racial healing started when he began opening up about his father’s internment and the trauma it left on the whole family. “The healing path led to the way of forgiveness,” Rowe writes. After finishing college, Nori put his faith into action. Although he worked at a Fortune 500 company, he lived in a high crime neighborhood serving the people there. After getting married and moving to another state, they also chose to live and immerse themselves into the community within a high crime neighborhood, blessing those around them. Nori refused to be silent and used his voice for good.

By sharing real-life stories of racial trauma, including her own, and how people overcame it, Rowe gives guidance to readers on how they, too, can find healing. She also offers steps on how to start something new concerning race relations.

Citing numerous concepts, theories, and Scripture to support her arguments, Rowe’s book left me with much to ponder. I’m glad I read it. I learned a great deal from her many personal stories. Rowe’s vivid descriptions enabled me to enter each one, trying to decide how I might respond in a similar situation. The book left a deep impression on me of how racism affects so many people from various backgrounds and races. And the historical accounts provide a clearer perspective of how we got to where we are today.

As I interact with various people through campus ministry, I see how this book has helped heighten my sensitivity for each person’s story. I especially liked hearing how people overcame adversity and racial trauma. I’m grateful for their willingness to share these difficult journeys, which helped set the stage for the last two chapters focusing on freedom and resilience.

Healing Racial Trauma promises to be a helpful read for anyone wishing to understand, or better understand, racism, its effects, and how to move forward in race relations. I highly recommend and encourage that you read this with an open heart to hear the author’s voice and intent more clearly.

Ultimately, reading this book was bittersweet. Racism is bitter; reconciliation is sweet. Rowe brilliantly interwove the gospel of Jesus and how it has the power to bring forgiveness and reconciliation. “The one constant believers have is God, who is at work in our lives on our behalf regardless of whether our experience is positive or negative,” she writes. “We are able to forgive because we have the assurance that Jesus assumed our racial trauma on the cross.”

We could never conjure up this kind of forgiveness and reconciliation Rowe describes, for they start from the heart. But through Jesus, we can see people for who they were made to be—worthwhile and valuable.

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