Paul L. Caron

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Brooks Reviews Givens's Radical Empathy: Finding A Path To Bridging Racial Divides

Susan L. Brooks (Drexel), Book Review, 5 Int'l J. Restorative Just. __ (2022) (reviewing Terri E. Givens, Radical Empathy: Finding A Path To Bridging Racial Divides (2021): 

Radical empathyIn her recent book, Dr. Terri Givens, a highly accomplished political scientist and entrepreneur, guides readers through the process of her own racial healing and invites them to create parallel journeys for themselves. Givens identifies the core element and requirement for the work of racial healing as empathy, which she defines as ‘the ability to see the world from another person’s perspective, in order to understand their feelings and life experiences.’ She uses the term ‘radical empathy’ to emphasize the need to move from feeling to doing, from recognizing the humanity in another person to taking action toward racial and social justice. Givens separates radical empathy into distinct steps representing the practices required to engage in this ongoing effort. These include becoming grounded in who you are, a willingness to be vulnerable, opening yourself to the experiences of others, and creating change and building trust. Throughout the book she demonstrates these practices by weaving together her personal and family narratives with scholarly writings on racial justice and other topics that represent highlights of her life experience and expertise, including leadership, healthcare, love and marriage, and European history. Consistent with Givens’ emphasis on action, at the end of each chapter she includes a set of suggested steps readers can take to move along the path toward creating positive personal and social transformation.

The first step on this journey is to engage in self-exploration grounded in self-love and compassion. To bring about change at the social and political levels, we need to start with ourselves. Givens also emphasizes the need to be vulnerable. She models vulnerability and courage throughout the book by sharing her stories in a candid and self-reflective manner. She embraces nuance and complexity in her accounts, acknowledging the intersectionality of her identities and how they inform her life events. A recurring theme in her narratives is how she came to recognize her own internalized oppression and how she was able to make use of therapeutic and other resources to find self-acceptance and self-love. Similarly, Givens’ suggested action steps invite readers to reflect on their own stories from a position of embracing their whole selves and building on their strengths as well as potential opportunities for growth and change.

The book’s culminating chapter focuses explicitly on the topic of restorative justice. Givens uses her deep knowledge of post-World War II Germany and South Africa effectively to illustrate the value of restorative justice as a model that can promote radical empathy and lead to conflict transformation and healing. For Givens, these examples show that if we and our country are willing to acknowledge the impact of our histories of racism, we can find new and more fulfilling ways to move forward. To that end, the book review highlights additional ideas and resources to support Givens’ vision, including trauma awareness, the use of circle processes, mutual aid and self-care, and spiritual practices.

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