A Review of
Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World— and How to Repair It All
by Lisa Sharon Harper
Reviewed by Sara Easterly
I’m an adoptee, so any book that focuses on the loss and trauma associated with family separation will grab my attention. As both adoptee-in-reunion with my maternal side of the family and adopted daughter of our family historian, I’m also intimately familiar with the innate pull to know and understand the stories of our ancestors. Connections to our roots, bloodlines, and family narratives not only help us understand our identity as individuals, but also ground us in the broader context of history and society to shape our growth and the legacy we aim to create.
That’s exactly what author Lisa Sharon Harper sets out to portray through Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World—and How to Repair It All. Through the process of uncovering family stories, passed on through oral history and puzzled together with the help of DNA testing and an immense amount of research, Harper takes us through ten generations on both her matrilineal and patrilineal lines. Anecdotes of her ancestors— Fortune, Hiram, Lea, Lizzie, Reinaldo and Anita, and Sharon—as well as her own story convey the impact of her family’s 340-year struggle on American soil and her makeup as part African, American Indian, and Caribbean.
Harper’s is a personal lens that offers broader implications for understanding and healing from racism. She writes, “One of the greatest costs of the construct of race in the United States is how it severs people from their roots, their families, their people, their land, and their stories.” She asks, and answers the question, “What will it take to heal the generational wounds of unknowing and separation? Reunion and story sharing.”
With this narrative charge and in her typical fashion as a gifted storyteller, Harper endears us to her ancestors and their stories, overlaid with important history lessons. Not merely a genealogical study, Fortune seeks to fill voids in American textbooks and studies. Examples of history that Harper personally illuminated for me included:
- Colonial American laws enabled and encouraged serial rape and breeding of men and women of African descent to be used as laborers in the Deep South.
- General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in the Civil War transpired after his defeat to more than 2,000 Black troops—nearly every Black regiment in the Union army.
- At least 50,000 Native Americans were exported from South Carolina for enslavement in the Caribbean between 1650 and 1730.
I could simmer over the fact that this history, along with more examples like it, wasn’t taught to me in my youth. But that would lead only toward a White posture of either shame or defensiveness—neither helpful nor hopeful. Besides, the goal of such information isn’t to assail those of us who are White, as those who spew “critical race theory” as a slur would like us to believe. Rather, Harper balances the White-dominant narrative by telling the truth about the ways that the sin of racism has impacted her family and countless other families of color. And she points the way forward through repentance, forgiveness, and healing.
Fortune also reminds us of our duty to see the divine in all of humanity and to take responsibility for the generations of harm that has resulted from not doing so. Tragically, as Harper describes, the church has played a significant role in deeming Black people as less-than human, dating back to a 1455 edict of Pope Nicolas V. In America’s 1692 Maryland Race Law, “the church itself became the primary auction block in Maryland,” Harper writes, describing the role of local parishes to transact the sales of enslaved Black men and indentured servants for the benefit of both enslavers and White parishioners in poverty.
Fortune illustrates how trauma is passed down through generations of Black bodies, as is the hardening of White hearts due to the war that began in slavery and continues in White Supremacy. Now with enough distance from slavery and Jim Crow to assess the damage, Harper writes, “It is my responsibility to heal from trauma.”
As an adoptee and parent, I echo the importance of healing from wounding and intergenerational trauma that I never asked for, nor personally determined, but nevertheless affects my children in ways that it is up to me to address.
For that reason, it is our responsibility as both Christians and American citizens—particularly those of us of European descent—to examine and repair our history of brokenness. Harper writes, “Laws flow from and reveal the hearts of a society.” Thus, heart-work is critical to healing what race broke in the world. Fortune is packed with the spiritual wisdom, political savvy, contextual history, and Harper’s signature “soul force” that can change hearts and then laws and policies, leading the way toward the reconciliation and shalom God has in store for all his beloved people.
Sara Easterly is an adoptee and the author of the award-winning memoir, Searching for Mom, and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and Freedom Road Institute’s Global Writers’ Group. Her adoption- and faith-focused articles and essays have been published by Psychology Today, Red Letter Christians, Godspace, Her View From Home, and Severance Magazine, to name a few. Sara is also the founder of Adoptee Voices, leading writing groups and managing an e-Zine to help other adoptees express their stories. Find her online at saraeasterly.com.