A version of this article was originally posted on the IDONTMIND Journal.
Racial trauma is a word that all of us should be a bit more familiar with because we all have some work to do. It’s all about the mental and emotional impacts that are a result of racial bias, racism, and hate crimes. This type of trauma may come from other people, or it can be experienced just by living in a racist system.
All of us are impacted by racial trauma, and it plays a huge role in your daily life (maybe even more than you realize). Melody Li, the founder of Inclusive Therapists, shared some thoughts and a few helpful reminders as you start doing the difficult work of racial trauma healing.
There are different layers of racial trauma
The historical — what happened to your people? How did you arrive here? The intergenerational — how did that trauma then get passed down from generation to generation? The personal — what are you experiencing now, in the day-to-day? And the systemic trauma — how is this system set up to keep you out and to keep you down? Resmaa Menakem writes about this idea in his book My Grandmother’s Hands.
Healing happens in the community
As you start looking at the layers of racial trauma and peel them back, it can be really painful. So do it in community. Find your people — the people that get you. Your people may or may not be your family of origin. Find people that you can tell your truth to and can share your experiences and microaggressions and they will believe you and validate you.
There can be celebration in the midst of healing
In the book, So You Want To Talk About Race, there’s a quote that more or less says that race is more than pain or oppression, but also culture and history. And so while you are doing this trauma healing work, while you are receiving care, connect with the joys, the vibrancy, the creativity of your culture and history. Don’t forget that part, because that’s all the awesome stuff that you get to keep. So there is the gratitude and the grief, and they can journey together.
We all need racial trauma healing — including white people
It just looks different for white people and for people whose ancestors may be oppressors or colonizers. White racial trauma goes deeper than just feelings of shame or outward violence or hatred. It’s thinking ‘how did my lineage get here?’ A lot of this work is demanded of by people of color, but this work is never demanded of white people. So they don’t know their lineage. They don’t know the story. They don’t know the original traumas that happened that really made their ancestors have to decide ‘do I maintain my heritage or do I choose power?’ People also need to ask: ‘How have my ancestors and lineage benefited from systems built to advance white bodies and keep the bodies of people of color oppressed? How did my people contribute to these injustices, directly (through genocide and land theft) or indirectly (through complacency and silence)?’
Racial trauma healing is going to be a process, with seasons of work or cycles of work
We can see that even in the Black Lives Matter movement that there are waves, that there are seasons. In each wave and each season of racial trauma, my desire for all of y’all is that you will gain deeper healing, but also brighter celebration of who you are.