What is Racial Trauma and How to Cope with it

The summer of 2020 has been a difficult one for black people. Since March, there have been a series of murders, incidents of police brutality, several videos of black people being harassed on the street, and many protests in cities across the country. 

All of this can lead to a phenomenon known as racial trauma. 

According to the American Psychological Association, racial trauma can be defined as “traumatization is due to experiences of racism.” 

Macon therapist Jacqueline Jackson said that she noticed a shift in her patients of color discussion from the topic of covid-19 to issues of race. 

“They have gone through the range of emotions related to a person that has been traumatized before and is being re-traumatized,” Jackson said. 

Jacksonsaid that, “anyone of a society that has been marginalized and oppressed” can experience racial trauma and that in the United States, that is often people of color. 

According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), racial trauma can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Effects of racial trauma and PTSD are similar and side effects include mood swings, anger, anxiety, sadness, depression, hypervigilance, sometimes suicidal thoughts and ideation or homicidal thoughts and ideation.

“They have gone through it before as children and then you know as young adults have going out into the workplace they’ve experienced discrimination in that area. They’ve experienced discrimination acts towards them and in shopping and in different arenas. If they haven’t experienced it, they either have experienced secondary PTSD, whereas their loved one have experienced it, especially with law enforcement,” Jackson said. 

“I have a mother who expressed anxiety related to her African American sons. I’ve had one young lady express anxiety and re-experiencing (trauma) related to her brother and her father, so it shows up in different areas in different ways, depending on what their experiences but it’s pretty much the same.” 

Mercer student Michaela Jones said that while many around her understand her struggles, it is still upsetting to see those that don’t. 

“It’s just disheartening when you see all these examples, you know, on social media or in person of people who just can’t seem to get with the movement because it’s heartbreaking and it’s like literally all we’re asking for as black people you know, no matter what we identify with or identify as…we just literally want to be able to live without any you know, harassment, without dying, without, you know, feeling like we’re always on edge,” Jones said.  

Jackson also named ways she advises her patients to deal with racial trauma. 

Jackson said that she allows her patients to firstly acknowledge their trauma and then she gives them tasks to overcome and understand it. 

“I’m empowering my people to educate and empower themselves,” Jackson said. 

She has encouraged her patients to learn more about the history of racism in America as a way of understanding the present and also to limit their television and social media. 

“So it’s day to day coping tools to put in their toolbox to help them cope day to day…overall coping is to educate and empower yourself…because they want to do something so giving them the tools that they need with that, to feel empowered, that they can do something, that they’re not helpless and they’re not hopeless,” Jackson said. 

“The best way that I learned how to cope was finding strength in my heritage. The powerful thing that a lot of southern black people say is, you know, your ancestors prayed for this. And, you know, you got the blessing that your ancestors…and that helps keep you motivated too, you know, I don’t want to let them down,” Mercer student Phillip Middleton said.