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Three things you should know about racial trauma

By July 16, 2019June 14th, 2021No Comments

Racial trauma has a negative impact on the mental and physical health of Black people. Several studies have indicated that racial trauma can contribute to an increase in the experience of physical and mental illnesses such as hypertension, acid reflux, depression, anxiety, and migraines. The stress that comes with racial trauma (e.g., race-related stress) creates a space where Black individuals are constantly on guard for potential racially traumatic events.

Black individuals use all their physical and mental resources (e.g., flight, fight, or freeze response, and distraction or avoidance) to cope with the experience of racial trauma. However, these coping responses can be harder to use if they must be used often or if there are more negative events than the Black individual is able to cope with such as the loss of social power in the form of economic exploitation. The over use of coping responses for racial trauma can contribute to physical breakdowns in the body as well as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that can develop into anxiety and depression.

The impact of racial trauma is transmitted across generations. From the beginning of slavery here in America, Black individuals have had to compartmentalize their experience of culture erasing, life threatening, family dissolving, racism and discrimination. Each generation of Black individuals tucked their experience of racism and discrimination into a racially traumatized box which was then passed on to the next generation for them to add their own experiences of racism and discrimination. However, most generations have not unpacked these boxes instead leaving them to clutter the attics of their minds. This racial trauma clutter can contribute to issues related to concentration, impulsivity, and poor decision making.

The negative effects of racial trauma can be prevented. There are a number of steps Black individuals can make to prevent the mental and physical health challenges associated with race-related stress as well as the transmission of racial trauma such as the following:  (1) get help and help others get help early, (2) foster collectivist spaces, (3) become critical consumers of media, (4) encourage spaces for healthy emotional expression (5) provide immersive experiences in Black/African history, and (6) take time to process racially traumatizing experiences with yourself and others.

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