Black Mental Health

What Is Racial Trauma In The Black Community?

February 7, 2018

Photo from; Beyond The Industry/Facebook

The Black Trauma

Racial trauma is real. I have learnt that people with privilege try very hard to discredit this concept. They seem to believe that saying continuous trauma to people of color is non-existent. For African Americans, the stark blatant denial is not just offensive, it is hurtful and regressive. It is a reminder to us that there are more than enough people out there that want to turn back the hands of time, and probably would if they could. An example of this is Mike Ditka’s recent statements. In case you don’t know who Mike Ditka is, he is former football player, coach, and commentator who has been inducted into both the college football and professional football hall of fame. When a person such as a Mike, who is well-renowned and respected, can make statements such as “There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of,” and “you have to be colorblind in this country…the opportunity is there for everybody,” from a platform such as his, there are lasting impacts, especially to the community’s history that is being denied. Only people with inherent privilege feel that being colorblind will solve problems. Race was built into the DNA of the United States due to how this country was built. In addition, race has been built in the DNA of many developed countries including the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, France. Racism is not only an American issue. Therefore, there are millions of blacks around the world that deal with prejudice and discrimination daily. What many people do not realize is that how we deal with social problems that plague our world and planet is a very clear determinant for where our future is headed. Discrimination of any kind is a human problem because it affects everyone on this planet.

From a long history that has tried to teach us that we are not worthy, that we are less than, our culture and race has undergone transformations unlike any other culture or race. One of the biggest issue that faces the black culture and black race is our history. Our histories have been told at the perceived mercies of other races and cultures who have, of course, denoted themselves the saviors, the rescuers, the victors – and anything else that shows them above blacks – of our race. We all have very limited knowledge of where we come from and not many examples of black greatness and success. Ancient Egypt is a prime example of this. Egypt being in Northern Africa, it is easy to want to view them as past black greatness. However, there are so many divisions regarding the race of this culture, we cannot seek to try and find redemption of black greatness in them. Our lack of knowledge on our histories is deeply rooted in our blood and culture.

So, when people want to try and tell us that we should be colorblind, this is not a privilege that blacks have. Our race has defined the way others have treated us. Our race has defined the way others interact with us. Our race defined the way others expect us to behave. We do not have the luxury of being colorblind. I think another problem that the black race also deals with is we are all scattered around the globe. Other cultures and races have examples of successful countries. There doesn’t seem to be one for blacks. Yes, there are many majority black countries but most of them have been affected by slavery and colonization. Slavery has decimated our histories and cultures and still affects us to this day. We have been unable to unite our culture and move towards progression the way we need to.

Racial Trauma

The cover picture of this blog is triggering; there is no denying this fact. Looking at a little girl on her knees on a leash does not present a positive picture in any way. Like this picture, African Americans experience triggers quite often, for some – daily, that affect our emotional and mental health. We often hear statements that remind us of a painful history that still lives in our blood along with remnants of which are still very present in the society we live in; racial trauma is a condition that many of us are familiar with. Dr. Erlanger Turner defined racial trauma as “experiencing psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, hypervigilance to threat, or lack of hopefulness for your future as a result of repeated exposure to racism or discrimination.”

Robert T. Carter explored race-based traumatic stress injury  as a consequence of emotional pain that is based on racism and discrimination. Trauma develops when exposure is continuous. Symptoms can arise through anxiety, depression, rage, low self-esteem, and other. Many of us do not realize that the news and outlets we give attention to that focuses on racial incidents have direct impacts on us. When we watch deaths of black men, such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner, we feel this within our community because we know that at any given moment, it could have been our brother or father, or relative and so this pain sits in our psyche. Added to the constant microaggressions we face in our daily lives, the trauma lives on. For black women, the trauma is also harder. Reports have shown that black women and their racial incidents are even less visible in mainstream news.

Mental Health Impact

The most obvious mental health impact is the development of symptoms such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, among others. Additionally, experts have reported that symptoms of race-based trauma present similarly to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is important to note that not everyone develops symptoms, and not everyone may have or have experienced racial trauma.

We also underestimate the toll of non-race based pain, such as death, loss, and grief and how much they affect us. When we experience a death in our family, grief is normal. There are also added factors that come into play, financial support, education, employment, and other life factors that affect the lives of the living who are still grieving. In the black community, trauma is also present when we consider the circumstances of the death of our loved ones; in racial encounters, we recognize that the situations can easily be reversed which creates a level of fear, distrust, and insecurity. These reactions can also increase our anger, especially as we want to do something to not feel helpless or alone. For our community, mental health has not been a recognizable concept for a long time. If we are feeling distrustful and afraid, who would we want to open up to about this pain that many perceive as not existing? This is the dilemma of racial trauma.

It is also important to note that race-based stress is not a diagnosable disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Mental health disorders are one of the biggest unmet needs in our society today. The opioid epidemic is a clear example of this. Our society is struggling with finding ways to cope with their internal pain. People are in pain and do not know where to turn. We have been conditioned to believe that we should be strong and just “get over it” but it is clear that no one is doing that. ‘Getting over it’ is only masking the pain; eventually that pain will surface in one form or another.


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  • Reply Alexandra August 23, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    Hello Mrs Matthews,

    Thank you very much for your article.
    I don’t even know where to start.
    You article clearly grasp, and underline all the challenges and obstacles conscious, or unconscious place in front of our community.

    The picture of the article is horrifying, I really hope that this «  teacher » was prosecuted or being charged with child molestation.

    More voices like your should be heard within the community as I’m sure a lot of young people feel this feeling and don’t know either what is going on or how to address these situations.

    We have to be very careful, block and break these constant attempts to breaking our « spirit», self esteem and dignity.

    We need cannot be the ones constantly taking on our time to think about these issues , other races have to think about their bias and unconscious racism or prejudice also.

    Kind regards from Paris, France

    • Reply Charmaine Perry October 17, 2018 at 2:59 pm

      Thank you Alexandra,

      It is a fully emotional and overwhelming process for us all. But if we provide forums and places to have the conversation and be willing to remove the fear and anger, we will make progress. Thanks again.


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