What is Racial Trauma?
Posted: February 10, 2022
Racial trauma is the tense feeling in the body when one senses a threat, or racing heart when watching an online video of a Black person being brutalized by law enforcement, or feelings of unworthiness related to racial injustice. Racial trauma is the most chronic and pervasive form of trauma. The race that the world perceives you to be is an inescapable experience that can contribute to debilitating feelings. Racial trauma is the emotional response related to race based stress and racism. Racial trauma is inclusive of one or more of the following categories of trauma; intergenerational, systemic racism, adverse childhood experiences, and vicarious experiences. Not every person who has been affected by one or more of these categories of trauma will experience symptoms of racial trauma and or develop PTSD. However a lot of people experience symptoms and do not know what to call it and or avoid the uncomfortable feelings as a survival mechanism. Common symptoms of racial trauma include;
- Distorted thoughts: Negative and or irrational thoughts and beliefs about ones self, others and or the world.
- Example: Nobody will help me because they’re all too busy.
- Uncomfortable feelings: distressing emotions
- Example: Feeling anxious after submitting a job application
- Uncomfortable body sensations: Physiological reactions to trauma related feelings. Muscle tension, racing heart beat and tightness in the throat.
- Example: Increased heart rate when being pulled over by the police
- Hypervigilance: excessive awareness and sensitivity to ones environment.
- Avoidance: resistance of trauma related matters.
- Example: Using a fake name at Starbucks to avoid the mispronunciation of
- Disassociation: When the mind disconnects from body as a protective mechanism.
- Experiencing violence or abuse
- Witnessing violence in the home or community
- Having a family member attempt or die by suicide
- Growing up in a household with:
- substance misuse
- household member with mental health issues
- parental separation
- household member going to jail and or prison
- Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, Dr. Joy Deruy
- American Psychological Association, 2021. Conceptualizing Healing Through the African American Experience of Historical Trauma. Henderson, Stephens, Ortega- Williams, and Walton.
- My Grandmothers Hand’s Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies,201 Resma Menakem, LICSW.
- American Psychological Association, 2021. Adverse Childhood Experiences in African Americans: Framework, Practice, and Policy. Hampton- Anderson, Carter, Fani, Gillespie, Henry, Holmes, Lamis, LoParo, Maples-Keller, Powers, Sonu, Kaslow.
- The Complex PTSD Workbook a Mind- Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole, 2016. Airelle Schwartz, Ph.D.