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  • Writer's pictureEve Kagan

Racial Trauma Is Real

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Tony McDade. Dion Johnson.

These are just a few of the names of the Black lives taken by police in the past few weeks. The violence perpetrated against black and brown bodies in our country stretches back centuries.

Invalidation. Discrimination. Harassment. Injustice. Oppression.

Racial trauma is real. As a therapist, I witness it. Trauma can be a single event, series of events, or an enduring condition experienced as life-threatening. Black people have been marginalized, stigmatized, pathologized, and dehumanized for generations. The frequent police killings of Black Americans have a severe negative impact on the mental health of Black people.

Racial trauma is the result of repeated exposure to discrimination and racism. This may take the form of racially motivated violence, workplace discrimination, humiliation, shaming, racial profiling, micro-aggressions, harassment, hate crimes, or witnessing racial discrimination towards another Person of the Global Majority (non-white folk).

The symptoms of racial trauma are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Hypervigilance to threat

  • Hyperarousal: increased reactivity or startle response

  • Re-experiencing: flashbacks, nightmares, flooding

  • Avoidance

  • Hopelessness

  • Poor concentration

  • Irritability

  • Social Withdrawal

How do you heal from racial trauma when every day the wound gets deeper?

There are no easy solutions to systemic problems. I stand in solidarity with Black communities across the U.S. and my hope is that the following trauma coping strategies might offer some relief:

Acknowledge & Validate

There is no “right” way to respond to trauma. Your response may look different from the next person. Your feelings are valid. Your emotions deserve a space for healthy expression.

Seek Support

You deserve to be heard, seen, and understood. Please reach out and connect to your trusted supports. At times, particularly when trauma symptoms keep you from functioning, it can be beneficial to find a safe therapeutic space to process your emotions and learn coping skills to help you manage. Healing can come from being witnessed and acknowledged.


Self-care is not selfish. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Self-care includes any activity that promotes a sense of well-being, pleasure, and respite from the constant barrage of negative information. Self-care strategies can help you cope with the overwhelm of trauma symptoms by focusing attention on your emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual needs.

Self-care might look like mindfulness, prayer, meditation, dancing, singing, exercising, cooking, creating (art/music/poetry), journaling, or disconnecting from social media.

Trauma gets stored in the body, so finding ways to release through movement and expression can help.

To all folks who are experiencing racial trauma in the wake of these tragic deaths, I see you, I hear you, I hold compassion in my heart for you. Black Lives Matter.

To learn more about racial trauma, visit here, here and here.

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