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Student Life

Racial Trauma

It is clear that racial discrimination is linked to negative mental health outcomes. Unfortunately, racial micro-aggressions are used today and is a more subtle form of racism. Racial micro-aggressions are hurtful comments that “convey hostile, derogatory, and/or invalidating meanings to people of color (Comas-Díaz, 2016). It is important to recognize that racial discrimination is not merely a negative experience but is a race-based traumatic stressor that triggers trauma responses in people who experience racism. More specifically, racial trauma refers to the “events of danger related to real or perceived experience of racial discrimination, threats of harm and injury, and humiliating and shaming events, in addition to witnessing harm to other ethnoracial individuals because of real or perceived racism” (Comas-Díaz, 2016).

Trauma reactions such as increased vigilance, heightened sensitivity, intrusive and painful memories, burnout and irritability, dissociation, and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are a common response to racial trauma. Race-based traumatic stress trauma differs from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in that victims are exposed to constant racial microaggressions (Comas-Díaz, 2016). While the content of the traumatic experience(s) may differ, the trauma responses are similar. The frequency, intensity, and pervasiveness of racial stereotypes, racial bias, and racial discrimination produce emotional and psychological distress as well as physiological stress reactions. Altogether, these racial traumas occur over and over again, resulting in what is termed racial battle fatigue. Racial battle fatigue is just that—- fatigue from hearing, seeing, and experiencing incessant racism and racial discrimination. Because individuals who face discrimination experience trauma symptoms similar to war veterans who experience PTSD symptoms, the racial “battle fatigue” occurs. This imagery connotes the arduous uphill battle and exhaustion that individuals and groups of people who face racial discrimination experience on a daily basis. If not dealt with, racial battle fatigue can lead to serious mental health problems and severe psychological distress.