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Racial Trauma

Racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress (RBTS), refers to the mental and emotional injury caused by encounters with racial bias and ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes. Any individual that has experienced an emotionally painful, sudden, and uncontrollable racist encounter is at risk of suffering from a race-based traumatic stress injury. In the U.S., Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) are most vulnerable due to living under a system of white supremacy. 

Experiences of race-based discrimination can have detrimental psychological impacts on individuals and their wider communities. In some individuals, prolonged incidents of racism can lead to symptoms like those experienced with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 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. Some or all of these symptoms may be present in someone with RBTS and symptoms can look different across different cultural groups. It is important to note that unlike PTSD, RBTS is not considered a mental health disorder. RBTS is a mental injury that can occur as the result of living within a racist system or experiencing events of racism.

Where does it come from?

Racialized trauma can come directly from other people or can be experienced within a wider system. It can come as the result of a direct experience where racism is enacted on you, vicariously - such as where you see videos of other people facing racism - and/or transmitted intergenerationally. Trigger Warning: The following includes discussions of abuse, assault, and violence.

Examples of Individual Racism   

Examples of Systemic Racism  

Direct Traumatic Stressors   

  • Direct traumatic stressors include all direct traumatic impacts of living within a society of structural racism or being on the receiving end of individual racist attacks. A person experiencing a direct traumatic stressor may be heavily policed, or they may face barriers to home ownership due to inequitable policies. Additionally, a person experiencing a direct traumatic stressor may be the victim of individual physical and verbal attacks or may face other microaggressions.

Vicarious Traumatic Stressors  

Examples of Transmitted Stressors   

How do you know you have RBTS? 

If you identify as a BIPOC and have experienced racism, you may be able to self-assess for many of the symptoms of RBTS. Formal diagnosis of RBTS requires assessment by a qualified mental health professional.

If you believe you may be suffering from race-based traumatic stress injury, it is important to seek therapy from 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 in all its various forms.

Find therapists here:  

Directories for QPOC

Therapy for QPOC
QTPOC Mental Health Practitioner Directory

Directories for Latinx

Therapy for Latinx
Latinx Therapy

Directories for Black People

Therapy for Black Girls
Therapy for Black Men
Association of Black Psychologists

Directories for Asian People

Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Therapist Directory
South Asian Mental Health Initiative Network 
Therapy for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Directories for Indigenous People

Indian Health Service Directory

General Multicultural & Religious Directories

Inclusive Therapists
Psychology Today
Melanin & Mental Health
Institute for Muslim Mental Health 
National Jewish Health

How can you prevent RBTS? 

Often the most immediate recourse for healing RBTS is through self-care. Taking steps to proactively care for your mind, body, and spiritual self can serve as a protective measure and an act of resistance against racialized traumatic stressors.

Do Nothing Tool
Self-care Guide

How can you help your community heal from RBTS?  

A part of self-care for many individuals includes relational care because healing from racial trauma does not happen in a vacuum. There are restorative tools and resources available that you can bring to your communities.

Project Let’s Resources on Race & Mental Health
Racial Trauma Toolkit
Black Muslim Community Trauma Toolkit
Self-Care Toolkit for Undocumented Communities
Asian Mental Health Project
The Brown Girl Therapy Newsletter 
Therapy for Black Girls Thrive Tribe Facebook Group
We R Native