Racial trauma is the experience of encountering racism and/or negative or harmful racial encounters as a person of color. This can happen either directly or indirectly by witnessing or hearing about racist acts that involve loved ones, those in your community, or individuals whose identity closely aligns to yours. Racial trauma is sometimes also described as race-based stress, race-related distress, or racial injury.
Symptoms related to distress manifest differently for individuals based on their unique experiences. As a result, members of marginalized racial groups will have their own nuanced experience of racial trauma. However, research indicates that negative or dangerous racial experiences can lead to symptoms such as:
These symptoms can impact the interpersonal, professional, and academic aspects of an individual’s life. Racial discrimination negatively impacts life satisfaction. If you are a student of color experiencing negative, uncomfortable, or dangerous racial encounters that are causing distress or are struggling to process your experience of racist acts know that we are here for you.
Understand your experience
Having the words to understand and articulate your experiences is powerful. Confusion related to your internal experience may increase feelings of distress, helplessness, and hopelessness. Find books, articles, podcasts, etc. related to defining, validating, and understanding racial trauma to increase your sense of awareness.
Engage in self-care that is empowering and protective
Understanding your own experience of racial trauma will also help you be intentional about your self-care practices. Engaging in self-care can range from limiting your social media use in an effort to avoid racial trauma triggers to engaging in activities that will increase feelings of empowerment. Whatever you choose, remember to be mindful of the function that it serves and be kind and compassionate towards yourself as you figure out what you need.
Reach out for support and help
When experiencing distress, there is a tendency to turn inwards and isolate from others for fear of being judged. Instead, consider connecting with friends and family to talk about those feelings, join in coping activities, and/or increase your sense of belongingness. Engaging in therapy if you choose is a helpful way to get support and understanding around your trauma experience.
Find places where your experiences are heard and validated
One symptom of racial trauma is feeling as if your racial identity or experiences will not be accepted. It is important to find places that challenge this notion. Find time to spend with individuals or join organizations that serve as safe and affirming places where you can share your experiences, process your thoughts, learn from others, or engage in joyful moments that increase your sense of belongingness and community.
UT Austin resources