5 Ways Racial Trauma Affects the Body

As Black women, racial trauma is a part of our daily lives. Whether it’s being followed around in a store, not being called back for a job because we don’t have a “white sounding name” or brutalized by police, racism is a constant. The chronic and traumatic nature of it has a significant impact on Black women’s mental health.

What is Racial Trauma?

Racism is a form of oppression — prolonged cruel or unjust treatment — and the effects of it have been shown to produce symptoms similar to those seen in folks with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, even in the absence of a known traumatic event (1, 2, 3).

These symptoms include: depression, anxiety, dissociation, hypervigilance, reluctance to interact with or general distrust of white people, and hopelessness (4, 5). There can also be somatic symptoms, like: headaches, digestive issues, difficulty sleeping, aches and pains, and cognitive impairments such as memory recall (6). These somatic symptoms occur because our memories and experiences exist in both our brains and our bodies.

The body is a container for all experience and many of our experiences are stored physiologically, unintegrated into the higher processing areas of the brain (7). This holds true for racism and racial trauma as well as other traumatic experiences — living within systems of racism and oppression don’t just affect Black folks’ lived experience in the world, it also affects our physiology (8).

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