Racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress (RBTS), is the mental and emotional damage that is inflicted in situations where someone experiences racial bias and ethnic discrimination, racism, or hate crimes. Anyone who has experienced an emotionally painful, sudden, and uncontrollable racist encounter could develop a race-based traumatic stress response. In the U.S., Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are the most at-risk people groups to having experienced racial trauma.
Experiences of race-based discrimination can have damaging psychological effects on people and their communities. In some cases, frequent exposures to situations like this can lead to PTSD-type symptoms. This can look like depression, anger, recurring thoughts of the event, physical reactions (e.g. headaches, chest pains, insomnia), hypervigilance, low self-esteem, and mentally distancing from the traumatic events.
Racialized trauma can come directly from other people or can be experienced within a wider system. It can come as the result of:
If you identify as a BIPOC and have experienced racism, you may be able to determine for yourself if you have symptoms of RBTS. Formal diagnosis of RBTS requires assessment by a qualified mental health professional.
If you believe you are struggling with race-based traumatic stress, we can help. It is crucial that you find a counselor who is a multicultural or racial trauma-informed therapist. These therapists work to create an open, culturally affirming, empowered space for you to heal from racialized trauma, however you may have experienced it. It’s not your fault this happened to you, and you don’t deserve to suffer either.