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6 Ways of Coping with Racial Trauma in a Racist World
The widespread resurgence of media attention on racism and focus of popular discourse on anti-racism across the country has placed Black, Indigenous, and other racialized peoples in a precarious situation. Although this attention has provided an opportunity for our communities to advocate for societal change, it has often done so at the expense of our community members’ wellness. Engaging in anti-racist discourse and activism, being inundated by news of police brutality and racism, and continually self-reflecting can be an exhausting experience. That’s okay. It’s important, however, to continue to prioritize your wellness so that you can continue to contribute to the anti-racism crusade.
Racial trauma, as it is called, is the physical, emotional, and physical injury which results from experiencing real and perceived, overt and covert racism. Racial trauma presents itself in many forms; you may be experiencing anger or other negative emotions, you may be tired, or you may want to avoid conversations on race, amongst other manifestations. Integral to addressing these feelings is to first acknowledge their presence. How you acknowledge these feelings is a unique experience; some find comfort in allowing themselves to experience the emotions which have been provoked, others sit with the emotions and reason them out. However you choose to acknowledge your feelings, remember to do so by relying on productive tools such as positive self-talk, self-reflection, and support systems. As part of this process, it’s important to recognize that these feelings are normal to have and legitimate to experience, even if they provoke discomfort.
Once you have accepted and validated these feelings, how you overcome them is an intimate and unique experience for each individual. Here are some tips we’ve found are supported by literature:
1. Talk it out.
Oftentimes, racialized folk find it helpful to talk about their experiences with racism and anti-racism with those that they trust. Articulating your feelings is a healthy way to process racial trauma. If you are uncomfortable speaking to those closest to you or feel like you could benefit from more formal support, reach out to racial identity professionals or other relevant mental health professionals in your community.
2. Tap into your identity.
Take pride in your identity; practicing your first language or religion (if applicable), wearing culturally-relevant apparel, and engaging with your community are all ways in which you can strengthen your connection to your race, comfort yourself, and combat racial trauma. Connecting with those who have similar lived experiences as you is especially helpful and can remind you that you are not alone.
3. Be proactive.
Identify your triggers and develop strategies to respond to them in advance of their onset. Try developing a response plan which detects situations that often produce symptoms of racial trauma and pinpoint response mechanisms you know will help center you, such as journal-writing and activism. Turn to this plan when you feel the political and social climate may impact your wellness. Also, considering a crisis plan to respond to immediate instances of racial trauma. On this plan, make sure to list resources and persons you know you can turn to in times of need. More on planning here!
4. Mobilize as you see fit.
Oftentimes, further engaging in activism and contributing to anti-racism discourse can be helpful for alleviating racial trauma. If this is helpful for you, continue to mobilize and share your message! Remember, however, that this work often requires you to exert a lot of emotional labour. Acknowledge the work you are doing, commend yourself for it, and remember that your wellness should always remain your top priority.
5. Take care of yourself.
It’s okay if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with conversations regarding racism and anti-racism. While social media is beneficial to staying in the loop and amplifying your voice, overexposure can be detrimental to your wellness. Prioritize your mental health and take breaks from social media as needed. Compliment this ‘social (media) distancing’ with other forms of self-care to ensure you’re well taken care of!
6. Learn more.
Data and academic research often struggles to capture the complex nature of race-based experiences and racial trauma. However, the tried-and-true approaches to coping discussed in literature may be helpful in identifying new strategies for coping with racial trauma.
Here are some pieces we found helpful for us in writing this article:
Chavez-Dueñas, Nayeli Y., Hector Y. Adames, Jessica G. Perez-Chavez, and Silvia P. Salas. “Healing Ethno-Racial Trauma in Latinx Immigrant Communities: Cultivating Hope, Resistance, and Action.” American Psychologist 74, no. 1
(2019): 49–62. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000289.
Comas-Díaz, Lillian, Gordon Nagayama Hall, and Helen A. Neville. “Racial Trauma: Theory, Research, and Healing: Introduction to the Special Issue.” American Psychologist 74, no. 1 (2019): 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000442.
Jernigan, Maryam M., and Jessica Henderson Daniel. “Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children and Adolescents: Challenges and Clinical Implications.” Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma 4, no. 2 (2011): 123–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/19361521.2011.574678.
Mosley, Della V., Candice N. Hargons, Carolyn Meiller, Blanka Angyal, Paris Wheeler, Candice Davis, and Danelle Stevens-Watkins. “Critical Consciousness of Anti-Black Racism: A Practical Model to Prevent and Resist Racial Trauma.” Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000430.
Polanco-Roman, Lillian, Ashley Danies, and Deidre M. Anglin. “Racial Discrimination as Race-Based Trauma, Coping Strategies, and Dissociative Symptoms among Emerging Adults.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 8, no. 5 (2016): 609–17. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000125.
Shea, Haley, G. Susan Mosley-Howard, Daryl Baldwin, George Ironstrack, Kate Rousmaniere, and Joseph E. Schroer. “Cultural Revitalization as a Restorative Process to Combat Racial and Cultural Trauma and Promote Living Well.” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 25, no. 4 (2019): 553–65. https://doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000250.
Jess is an undergraduate student at Western University pursuing an Honours Double Major in Sociology and Women’s Studies. As the President of the Sociology Students’ Association and the Equity Programming Assistant for the Social Science Orientation Program, she strives to advocate for those in marginalized communities.
Zamir is an undergraduate student at Western University pursuing an Honours Specialization in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. Serving as the President of the Social Science Students’ Council at Western University and Research Intern at the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, he is committed to advocating for post-secondary students across the province.
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