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Racial Trauma is Real and Valid

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Regardless of a person’s previous awareness of racism, many people of color find themselves struggling to process their reactions to the disregard and brutality towards Black bodies, as well as the lack of indictments of the police officers who killed these individuals. 

Racial trauma is a term used to describe the physical and psychological symptoms that people of color often experience after exposure to particularly stressful experiences of racism. Similar to survivors of other types of trauma, people of color may experience fear and hypervigilance, headaches, insomnia, body aches, memory difficulty, self-blame, confusion, shame, and guilt after experiencing racism. When the experiences of racism are more frequent, the consequences tend to be more acute. 

These experiences never exist in isolation; racial trauma is a cumulative experience, where every personal or vicarious encounter with racism contributes to a more insidious, chronic stress. Experiencing racism brings up both previous experiences with racism, as well as a person’s awareness of the longstanding history of racism directed toward similar others in the US. Historical race-related events play a significant role in shaping how people of color view racism. For many people of color, early racial socialization experiences often include listening to their parents’ and grandparents’ stories of living through different periods of racial tension in the U.S., including the Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow laws, and, for some, slavery. While the passing down of these stories is an essential part of educating and socializing the younger generation about race and racism, the transmission of racial trauma is often carried across multiple generations as a result. The cumulative emotional effects and psychological wounding that is transmitted across generations is also known as intergenerational trauma, and can result in higher rates of mental health and physical health issues within communities of color. 

There is no one way or “right” way to react. It is important to be aware and accept what you are feeling and thinking. Individuals or groups may respond to experiences of trauma differently. Furthermore, wanting to talk about the traumatic event(s) or feeling that verbalizing said emotions would pose too much of a challenge are both fully valid choices.


The content above has been adapted from the following source:

Jernigan, M., Green, C., Pérez-Gualdrón, L., Liu, M., Henze, K., Chen, C., … Helms, J. (2015). Racial Trauma Is Real. Retrieved from Alumni Advisory Group Institution for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture.