The Unidentified Trauma: Racial Harassment

Health professionals have acknowledged for many years that people who are subjugated to particular types of physical, psychological, and/or emotional assaults experience – trauma or traumatic stress. Check out also this video in which Dr. Joy DeGruy talks about PTSS (Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome):

Racial Trauma – is the emotional, physiological, and/or psychological damage resulting from discrimination and/or harassment. Racial Trauma is based on evidence demonstrating that racial harassment and/or discrimination in relation to the fact that racism causes stress for the targets.

Racial Discrimination – is a form of “Aversive” or avoidant racism.

Racial Harassment – is a form of “Domination of Dominative Racism” and is characterized by active hostility.

Psychological and psychiatric diagnostic criteria for traumatic stress often do not include the nuances inherent in race-based traumatic stress and Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

Yet in spite of the laws against racial discrimination and harassment, there is little recognition and acceptance of racial harassment effects in various diagnostic manuals and there are few explicit policies in organizations and institutions that outline policies and/or procedures for people that have serious complaints regarding racial harassment.

People are exposed to life events, which are experienced by some as traumatic. Not all who are exposed develop psychological symptoms. The general rate of developing PTSD after exposure is about 5-10%.

People who had previous exposure to assaultive violence are at greater risk for developing PTSD. Black people (and Black men in particular) experienced fewer traumatic events but their reactions were more severe. Black men were found to be more vulnerable to higher rates of PTSD symptoms.

Veterans of Color have higher rates of PTSD and other psychological symptoms of distress not explained by the specific exposure to trauma. Researchers have come up with the idea that People of Color who are faced with neglect, hostility, and/or racism may well be severely affected by life event crises.

White people seem to be more exposed to traumatic life events. It seems like their social status is buffering the impact of severe life events that are producing stress.

Racial Harassment is a Traumatic Stressor

Racism is a Chronic and/or an Acute Stressor that Causes Trauma. Racism qualifies as a stressor and has been found in studies to be related to psychological symptoms.

People of Color, and in particular Black people, experience harassment and report negative physiological outcomes such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems from encounters and on-going experiences of racial discrimination and harassment.

For instance, in one study, 96% of the Black respondents reported an experience of racial discrimination or harassment in the past year that left them feeling stressed. People were called names, were harassed at work, and felt stressed because they had to hold onto their experience even when they wanted to tell someone.

People of Color perceive race-related events as negative

Many when confronted with race-based assaults and attacks find the event to be sudden and often unexpected. Even though there is the knowledge that racism exists individual People of Color may not have had personal experience with racists attacks.

Race-related assaults or attacks are uncontrollable

Thus, using the Carlson model, racial trauma does exist. Moreover, there is evidence that people of Color experience high rates of traumatic stress that more than likely is brought about by racial discrimination and harassment.

Researchers Findings Have Found Acts and Behaviors of Racial Harassment to Include Some of the Following

1. Interpersonal assaults that occur suddenly and without warning, e.g. racial slurs and symbols (noose or confederate flag)

2. Consistent communication about your poor performance or being told that you are less competent regardless of your qualifications (e.g., assumptions that you need help with a task or you are overlooked when people are asked to do certain tasks).

3. Dismissal or denigration of personal (or group) achievement, (e.g., no recognition for outstanding work and disparaging of one’s group’s achievements or one’s personal ability. For instance, few Black coaches in college or professional football or a few educational or corporate leaders).

4. Being put in a position where you are forced to accept hostility from superiors and co-workers because it is presented under the guise of humor or unbiased criticism and if you speak out you might lose your job (e.g., being told that you are mean or angry or you are the target of racial jokes and so on.

Features of Racial Trauma a summary

Racial harassment involves a negative, sudden and uncontrollable experience or it may be a form of on-going physical and/or psychological threat that produces feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, helplessness and/or PTSD related symptoms.

The threat and stress associated with racial harassment and/or discrimination may be communicated through the use of racially meaningful signs, coded language, and/or symbols.

Thus, actions or words that may not appear threatening to “a reasonable person” may appear so to members of the threatened group. Racial trauma is real and may be affecting people without their or your awareness. What is need are procedures to file complaints in organizations, diagnostic criteria, and treatment strategies for racial trauma.