Racial Trauma/Other Identity-Based Trauma

I view racism as a product of white patriarchic supremacy culture. There is now a large body of historical and scientific evidence that systemic racisms are real and have a real impact on individuals and communities, often resulting in traumatic reactions.

In the United States, anti-black racism has been the primary form of racism alongside the genocide and displacement of Indigenous peoples. Race is an invented category used to justify bias, persecution, oppression, and exploitation of targeted groups of people.

Racism is more than thinking badly about a group of people. Racism is having the political, economic, and cultural power to act on those beliefs about the inferiority of groups of people.

In this way, sexism is a form of racism for instance when women and especially women of color are paid less for the same work as men or suffer sexual harassment and violence and are silenced. Racism by this definition is perpetrated against people within the LGBTQ community, Latin and Central American communities, immigrant communities, Muslim, Jewish, and other communities cast beneath culturally invented white male dominance and superiority.

Race and class interact. Race is used to invent, justify, and maintain severe inequities in economic status. In this way working class and poor white communities suffer even while holding racially invented status over peoples cast outside of whiteness.

At the end of this section, you’ll find a link to articles and resources if you are interested in learning more.

Racial trauma and other forms of identity-based trauma:

  • Police and other forms of community-based violence and harassment in which the perpetrators of harm are most often not held accountable in a way that would be likely to prevent future harm. That is, a failure in justice tends to prevail.
  • Discrimination in access to and allocation of resources and protections in work, education, healthcare, housing, and environment. Examples include inequity in funding of schools, getting passed over for promotions despite high work performance, lead poisoning of water such as in Flint, Michigan, gentrification and lack of access to affordable housing, and lack of protection and access to healthcare resulting in greater exposure to COVID-19 and higher rates of fatality.

  • Exposure to microaggressions which are disguised forms of hostile and demeaning behavior intended to assert power over and marginalize racially targeted people. Examples include getting treated with suspicion in public settings such as retail stores, getting ignored or people attempt to speak for you in work, education, and other settings, having your authority questioned, and exposure to culturally insensitive comments or jokes.

  • Invalidation, victim-blaming, and retaliation in response to your efforts to call attention to these issues.

  • Distressing and traumatic experiences related to racial justice activism

  • Sexual harassment, assault, and rape in work, education, and other settings that create barriers to pursuit of resources and life goals.

  • Voter suppression

  • Daily immersion in white patriarchic culture in which racially targeted groups are depicted in the media in victim-blaming and demeaning ways. Includes vicarious trauma related to repeatedly witnessing violence and injustice perpetrated against groups of people with whom you identify.

Because racism is pervasive and insidious, exposure to these and other forms of racism is common. Even if you’ve never faced explicit violence, harassment, or loss, the everyday implicit forms of racism can add up to chronic stress and traumatic reactions. Many people are resilient, successful, and enjoy strong mutually loving relationships, while carrying the scars of racial trauma.

The harm that comes from racial trauma/other identity-based trauma:

  • The first thing to know is that racial trauma is not an individual mental health disorder. It is a result of a disordered social, political, and economic system. The harm done has real material consequences including at times fatal consequences. It makes it a lot harder to achieve life goals, well-being, and security for oneself and one’s family. And at times those things can be lost temporarily or more permanently.

  • White patriarchic culture and its racisms get into our minds and our bodies in ways that exert impact outside of immediate awareness. Still, the potential impact on self-worth, well-being, and worldview can build up during lifetime exposure.

  • Anxiety, depression, and many symptoms that overlap with the harm done by other forms of traumatic abuse. Symptoms including flashbacks, emotional flooding and emotional numbing, intense anger, fear, and feeling helpless can occur in the specific contexts in which the unprocessed racism occurs.

  • Physiological symptoms including hypertension, gastrointestinal distress, chronic pain, and other impacts on physical health.

  • While we are living in a time in which open discussion of racism is increasing, many work, education, and other public settings are just learning how to do it honestly and effectively. Racism can still be largely unprocessed in many places, making it difficult to find support, protection, and relief in such settings.

How I can help

  • The most important thing for me to do is to listen to your experiences with racism and how you’ve been impacted. By working to emotionally resonate with you, I’ll try to help increase your awareness of impacts you’ve not had the chance to fully know and express.

  • Help you sort through the cultural identities that feel most like reflections of your authentic self from cultural images that feel imposed. That includes helping to recognize how white supremacy culture and internalized racism might be showing up in your mind and contributing to conflict and emotional pain. We’ll cultivate ways to counter false narratives about yourself.

  • Build a relationship with you in which we can talk honestly about how white supremacy and racism might show up within our interactions. We are all creatures of this culture including me. I know there are things I might misunderstand and mistakes I might make. I’m committed to talk about it and making changes in myself so that I can better understand and help you. I further hope to help you cultivate ways to bring these honest conversations into other relationships and settings to the extent you choose to do so.

  • Reflecting together on the dynamics of white supremacy and racism you experience and observe in organizational, political, cultural, interpersonal, and historical contexts to help you more effectively navigate the microaggressions, denial, and retaliation you experience.

  • Recognition of the internal, interpersonal, community, and spiritual resources you’ve developed to cope with and challenge white supremacy and racism. I’ll help you build on those resources including well-being practices based on what works best for you.

  • Since racism is a social problem, it requires collective effort to generate political and cultural change. I’ll help you identify how you feel called to enter this political and cultural change process, in whatever way feels right to you. That calling can be anything from how you treat yourself and relate to others to various forms of political and cultural participation.