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Racial Trauma: What It Is and How You Can Cope

As a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color (BIPOC) - you’ve probably experienced race-based stress at some point in your life. It could be discrimination at work, microaggressions, unfair profiling, the fear of getting stopped by the police, witnessing brutality, exposure to racial prejudices online, hearing stories of racism from other BIPOC, hate crimes, and many other forms of violence.

Racial trauma is the physical and psychological aftermath that BIPOC individuals face when they are continually exposed to disturbing or life-threatening racist experiences by white supremacists, oppressive systems, and policies. Racial trauma can also leave a chemical mark on someone’s genes which can result in it being passed down from generation to generation.

BIPOC can experience racial trauma directly through ongoing events or by witnessing racism or through systemic means. Systemic racism is set in the laws, regulations, and procedures of a society that disadvantage the minority groups (BIPOC) and advantage the dominant group (White people). So in one way or another, as a BIPOC individual, you will experience race-based trauma because the triggers are everywhere.

Racial trauma leads to negative mental and physical health like anxiety, depression, problematic behavior like violence, Post-traumatic stress disorder, hyper-vigilance, headaches, memory loss, body pains, toxic shame and guilt, self-hate, poor immunity, suicidal thoughts, and confusion. In a world that continually exposes us to these dangers, it’s up to us to care for ourselves and this is how you can do that;

  1. Take note of what triggers you or brings back symptoms and memories of trauma. This could be people, places, situations, or social media accounts. If it’s online - unfollow, mute, block, and delete without hesitation. If it’s in a more complex situation like at work, raise the issue with management or avoid meeting with the specific people who trigger you. Also, don’t hang around insensitive people who re-traumatize you and that could also mean avoiding BIPOC spaces that continually bring up racial trauma or undermine its effects.

  2. Prioritize self-care. Race-based stress affects both physical and mental health so you need to take care of yourself holistically. Nourish your body with the right foods, hydrate, exercise, and most importantly, rest. You don’t always have to be in a state of productivity which is how most of us were brought up - always having things to do. Self-care is also setting healthy personal boundaries by limiting who has access to your space, energy, and attention.

  3. Talk about your pain. Whenever you experience race-based stress, don’t suppress your emotions because they might pile up and manifest as something else like physical pain or worse symptoms like PTSD. It’s okay to be angry, cry or have tough emotions because you have dealt with a tough situation. Chances are that people around you have had similar experiences so they can hold space for you to talk about it. If you don’t have a safe community, reach out to a therapist who will help you process the trauma and equip you with the right coping skills. We offer free consultations.

  4. Become an advocate. Activism looks daunting but it can be empowering to stand up for causes you believe in like justice and equality. Being part of a community of like-minded people can create a sense of belonging and grow your self-esteem because you learn how to stand up for yourself. It is within your right as a BIPOC to demand equality and fairness which can be a healing experience. It’s also hard work and it can be mentally draining and when it gets there, you can always withdraw your energy. You can start with online activist groups, join a local protest, or volunteer for an organization that champions racial justice.

  5. Develop a strong and positive cultural identity. It’s such a beautiful thing to be BIPOC; we have a lot of great qualities and uniqueness. This world taught us to hate what we should be most proud of; our skin color, our ways of speaking and doing things, our expressions, our perspectives, the texture of our hair, the different shades and forms of beauty, our food, the music, and the stories passed from generation to generation. We don’t know if the world will someday fully accommodate us but we can rejoice in who we are. Celebrate your achievements and those of other BIPOCs. Consume media that portrays our BIPOC excellence and gives you a sense of pride.


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