Listen: Healing Racial Trauma with Sheila Wise Rowe
There's a special kind of trauma that comes from racism. A Black therapist tells us how to get on the road to recovery
When I was in my twenties there was a stretch of three or four months where I got pulled over by the police four times. It got so frequent that I wondered if my 1998 green Pontiac Grand Am (a grandmother’s car…I literally bought it from a grandmother) was known for criminal activity or something.
Getting pulled over on rural roads in Mississippi and Arkansas is never a comfortable experience for a Black man. Every single encounter, even if I didn’t end up with a ticket, became a near panic-inducing event.
I got conditioned to dread seeing police cars and to this day my heart starts pounding, my adrenalin rushes, and my breathing gets shallow if I ever see those red and blue flashing lights.
In a racist society where Black people are often targeted while doing everyday activities, theres no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop.
Over time, I learned that these incidents triggered memories of all the Black people I had seen brutalized or killed by police—Rodney King, Sean Bell, Philando Castile, and more, and more, and more.
These memories now spark a physiological response as my body jumps into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. This is what racial trauma feels like.
I’m so thankful for professional therapists such as Sheila Wise Rowe who help us understand these experiences and get us on the road to recovery.
In this conversation you’ll hear her talk about big ‘T’ trauma and little ‘t’ trauma. She explains how everyday experiences of racism have a cumulative effect on our physical and mental health.
She also talks about her story as one of the students who participated in the bussing programs of the 1970s that brought Black kids to white schools in an attempt to integrate.
During the last segment of the interview, Wise Rowe gives us some of the features of a faith community that is actually helping people heal from racial trauma and offers some advice for attending to our own mental health.
Listen to the full interview HERE.
Let me know in the comments if the episode sparks any thoughts for you.