Racial Trauma – What Person Really Feels Who Has Experienced Racial Trauma?
Racial discrimination is at a record high in modern history, and many people are facing the consequences. So, this is about time that we think about how racial prejudice can affect people. That way, we can understand what people feel when experiencing racial trauma and help them overcome it.
First, I’ll tell you a little story.
A son came home and asked his mother why people have different colors on their skin. As the answer, the mother brought out three apples; red, green, and yellow, peeled them, and asked the son to identify which apple was which. As you can probably tell, he couldn’t guess it.
The moral of the story is that even though people come in different colours, inside, we’re the same.
This story that I read when I was younger, is what everyone needs to hear today.
Although racial equality is a goal so many strived for, we’re still not there. Racial discrimination is happening every day and is affecting the mental health of black people.
What is racial trauma, and how does it happen?
Racial trauma definition
Racial trauma is a result of racial discrimination and microaggression. It can affect an individual’s mental health and finally, physical health as well. The symptoms of racial trauma include anxiety, depression, and even suicide.
It can be a derogatory term used against a black person in a bus, school, or even workplace. These can merely be seen as ‘negative experiences’ but can have lasting effects. Imagine hearing an abusive comment every morning and night. Although at first, you’ll be able to ignore it to some extent, eventually it starts grating into a person causing self-blame, stress, and finally trauma.
People who faced racial abuse show signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and felt emotions and reactions such as high sensitivity, anxiety, irritability, dissociation, and more. All these reactions are harmful to mental health in the long term.
Racial trauma can also occur because of racial bias, widespread stereotypes, and even from second-hand trauma that come with seeing footage and hearing about things that have happened to other people. Media plays a massive role in racial trauma. High profile killings, other much too common discriminating occurrences, etc. can create a feeling of hopelessness and rage.
This problem will eventually build up and cause racial fatigue. This term means that a person grows tired of hearing, seeing, or experiencing incessant discrimination. This can cause severe mental stress.
Where can racial discrimination occur?
Racial discrimination can occur everywhere, from schools to public places. Everyone from children to adults faces discrimination and are at the risk of suffering severe mental health issues.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics USA, between 6th to 12th grades, 38.8% of black students were suspended while only 15.6% of white students were suspended. This can cause a disparity among students, and the person who underwent discrimination may feel a decreased sense of belonging with other students.
Additionally, this discrimination can also be an academic disadvantage due to missing essential lessons, etc. Other than that, there is also the increased violence and bullying, reading materials that are derogatory towards black people in the classroom, and so on that can cause racial trauma in schools.
The trauma doesn’t stop there. The discrimination towards black people continues in workplaces and even in healthcare. The blatant police brutality against black people in the USA shows how discrimination is at a whole new level today. The brutal killing of George Floyd is an example of severe discrimination and racism. And the people who take in this incident second hand may feel fear, rage.
What does a person going through racial trauma feel?
Racial trauma is a psychological condition that can trigger different symptoms. When faced with a particular situation, some may experience behavioural, emotional, and psychological distress.
Some behavioural changes that a person may feel are muscle tension, gastrointestinal troubles, being distracted, or lack of concentration. You may even feel yourself adapting to other behavioural changes such as procrastinating, avoidance, and escape through methods such as eating, substance abuse, etc.
When it comes to psychological distress, a person may start panicking, feeling depressed, irritable, overwhelmed, or anxious when facing some situation or trigger. These can develop into self-blame and feeling hopeless. Some severe responses include cardiovascular health issues. Apart from those responses, a person can also feel distrust in others, guilt, shock, shame, and such other reactions.
Healing from racial trauma is a long road. But it is possible to overcome it and find peace with yourself.
Racial trauma – Effects and treatment.
It’s no secret that trauma affects mental health. But, when it comes to racial trauma, its effect is not talked about as much as other kinds of trauma. As a society, we’ve come to ignore all discussions about racial discrimination, summing it up with one single line; “I don’t see colour”.
While trauma is widespread, receiving treatments for mental illnesses is a stigma among the black community because of cultural norms. Even if the person opts for treatment for racial trauma, most counsellors are untrained on how to help heal racial PTSD. They are unqualified and lack the knowledge and practical skills required to help cure mental illnesses related to racial trauma.
Fortunately, some therapists specifically help those who suffer from racial marginalization and trauma. You can always seek out help from them. Getting help and finding empowerment is necessary against racial trauma.
Treat racial trauma in simple ways.
If a person is facing racial trauma, how do you help them heal from it? The scars of racial trauma can run deep and can take a long time to heal—people who were affected by racial trauma experience similar symptoms as war veterans and sexual assault survivors. The feelings of fear, anger, confusion, exhaustion, helplessness, rage, etc. can affect people with racial trauma unpredictably.
So, what’s the solution? How to help racial trauma?
In a perfect world, we would have put an end to discrimination altogether. Unfortunately, that’s not an option. However, there are other solutions that you can use to get through the trauma.
People are different. One person may not experience racial trauma in the same way as another person does. Apart from individual emotions, factors like age, the ability to express one’s thoughts and experiences can affect how we analyze trauma in our minds. So, there’s no one answer to dealing with racial trauma.
However, there are some things a person can do to improve their mental health and overcome what they feel because of racial trauma.
Talking to others – Be social
There’s always someone ready to help. It may be a loved one or someone you trust. Reaching out to them and talking about what you felt experiencing racial trauma can help. However, keep in mind that the person would not fully understand your feelings and how you comprehended your experience. Their advice may not always be right.
You can also try talking to a counselling professional in the area for racial trauma counselling or consulting a religious leader or mentor. If talking to someone is not an option, you can also try journaling to promote self-awareness.
Caring for yourself – Love your self
If you faced racial trauma, take measures and see that you are taking care of yourself. It is the first step in making sure that you are not letting it affects you. Adding relaxing activities that allow self-reflection and release from stress to your everyday life is the best way to do this.
Try meditating, yoga, reading, or such other mindful practices that help you take a break and release your emotions. You can also try other creative activities such as blogging, painting, dancing, writing poetry, and more.
Try to channel your feelings and distress through these activities. Try deep breathing exercises, talking with others who have similar experiences for validating what you feel, etc. These activities will help in handling your problem.
Don’t Resist yourself
Be an active part of social changes in your community. This will help you overcome the helplessness and rage you feel undergoing racial discrimination. Take this chance to be an activist and turn your experiences in the way of helping other people.
You can host mentoring events and such activities that help you stay connected among your family and your community. It is essential to know that you are not isolated.
So, what does a person who has experienced? It is normal and common to feel helpless, angry, sad, confused, and exhausted at the same time. Racial trauma can harm the mental health of any person. It’s not just you. However, it is essential to overcome trauma for the sake of your mental health.
The best thing you can do to overcome racial stress and trauma is expressing yourself to a trusted family member or friend. Although their view of the matter cannot always be right, showing yourself to someone is better than bottling the emotions that you feel due to racial trauma.
Just remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
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