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Recognizing and Coping with Racial Trauma

Recognizing and Coping with Racial Trauma

Has there been a time when people of color weren’t experiencing racism? According to Pew Research, the mistreatment of Blacks by police and the criminal justice system happens more amongst Black individuals.

Police brutality, hate speech, and other racist moments leave recipients feeling traumatized. This type of trauma is known as racial trauma or race-based traumatic stress.It can become ingrained in the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, or BIPOC. It can lead them to live in fear, feel hopeless about the future, and prevent them from living out their potential. For those experiencing racial trauma, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms. This knowledge can lead to better support, recovery, and mental peace for BIPOC communities.

Definition of racial trauma

Mental Health America states that racial trauma is the mental and emotional damage caused by racial bias, ethnic discrimination, hate crimes, and racism. It is experienced through direct means such as receiving acts of violence or discrimination.

It can also be experienced through indirect means such as watching racist moments on the news or being around others who don’t take racism seriously. Although there are many ways to experience this trauma, it is not considered a mental health disorder. Nonetheless, it is a condition that requires proper attention and care.

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Living with racial trauma

Because BIPOC are the recipients of racism, it can negatively influence the mind and body. During trauma, the body releases cortisol, a hormone that prepares the body to react. In moments of stress, anger, or anxiety, the body will either combat the situation, pause, or run away. Also known as fight, flight, or freeze.

Constant exposure to racism, such as microaggressions at work, leads to an overproduction of cortisol. Without time and support for the body and mind to process these events and higher levels of cortisol, it can lead to problematic behaviors. Behaviors such as greater apprehension, anxiety and depression, nightmares, aggression, and substance abuse.

Greater apprehension: Events like the death of Ahmaud Arbery and the attacks on elderly Asians all contribute to heightened fears. This can manifest as tensing up when hearing police sirens or not engaging with certain people. Another manifestation includes avoiding everyday routines such as going for a jog or to the supermarket out of fear of racial attacks.

Anxiety and Depression: This can look like feeling anxious when hearing about an act of discrimination and extended periods of depression.

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Substance abuse: Turning to alcohol and drugs to cope with the effects of trauma

Aggressive behavior: Feeling the need to show aggression or resistance to protect oneself or loved ones.

Black women can experience this trauma two-fold because of both racial and gender discrimination. Black women can carry a higher allostatic load according to a 2006 study by Trusted Source. This load refers to the “wear and tear” on the body.

With so many damaging side effects BIPOC must have systems and resources in place to cope with this ongoing trauma.

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Coping with racial trauma

Coping with racial trauma is best combated in two ways. Supporting oneself and seeking professional support. Here are some examples to follow

Maintain a healthy lifestyle: With all the stress on the body, acts such as eating healthy and getting a full night’s rest can seem simple. Yet when healthy habits are consistent, they can prevent many severe health conditions.

Support a good cause: Activism, volunteering, and any similar community work can help one feel as if they are making a difference. It can offer a sense of control. This type of work is necessary but also very demanding. It’s important to balance this work with other hobbies and enjoyable activities.

Connect with others: Having a strong support system can provide a safe space for those experiencing racial trauma. Meeting with close friends, family, and members of different organizations is a great way to foster these connections.

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Seek professional help: More organizations are forming and are in place to provide mental and emotional support for BIPOC. Some of these organizations include: the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men, Therapy for Muslims, Asian, Pacific Islander, and South Asian American (APISAA) Therapist Directory, Therapy for Latinx

It’s vital to recognize that racial trauma is a real issue affecting many BIPOC communities. A starting point is becoming aware of situations and people that may trigger negative responses. Awareness is powerful and allows one to either confront or avoid triggering situations.

Racism is something that can change over time. But in the day-to-day fight, taking care of oneself supports the long-term battle. For anyone experiencing racial trauma, remember to turn off the news when feeling overwhelmed. Cultivate joy daily. Maintain healthy relationships with friends and family. Continue to pursue goals because the hope and dreams of BIPOC are important and valid.

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