After the anti-Asian shooting in Atlanta, USA in March 2021 I had an intense phase of anxiety and depression. Six of the eight people who died were Asian women. The investigating police failed to acknowledge it as a religiously-motivated racist hate crime based on the fetishization of Asian women in the Global North. Even though anti-Asian racism increased since the beginning of the pandemic, this event affected me differently. As an Asian-German woman of color I worried about my family here, other Asian-perceived people in the Global North, especially elders and also about myself. Why did this “distant” event trigger me in such an unpredictable way?
After a while I understood that the grief, anger and solidarity worked more on a collective level. The answer, at least for me, is race-based stress/racial trauma.
“Racial trauma can be defined as the cumulative traumatizing impact of racism on a racialized individual, which can include individual acts of racial discrimination combined with systemic racism, and typically includes historical, cultural, and community trauma as well.“
Racist events can therefore cause real emotional or psychological wounds that have a big impact on the mental health of racialized individuals. Symptoms are often closely related to those of post-traumatic stress (disorder). They can show up in many ways, often they arise unexpectedly and seem uncontrollable. Especially when they influence the sense of self, they can cause mental stress that can negatively influence one’s feeling of security and well-being. More intense experiences can even lead to short-term dissociations where a person feels disconnected to the environment due to threatening emotions. Some would also call it paranoia. It is important to understand that race-based stress/racial trauma is being retriggered by reexposure, either on an individual or collective level. Having in mind, that racial trauma can be passed on intergenerationally and/or historically, the racism experiences of one’s parents, ancestors and the past of an individuals collective matter: emotional and mental wounds caused by negative racialized experiences of migration, refuge, colonialism, genocide, displacement or slavery.
Coping strategies vary. Research shows that active coping mechanisms like problems-solving or seeking help can support individuals and ideally create long-term resilience. During my phase of heavy dissociation I channeled my feelings into a music mix. It is a distorted emotional journey, ranging from sadness and grief to anger, resistance and ultimately strength. It functions as a shared approach of collective healing to reach out to other Asian-identified people or other BIPOC, who can’t find their words to describe their emotions during this time.
If we view the current pandemic as a novel collective social trauma with a global effect, a double burden results for racialized individuals who have experienced race-based stress/trauma since the start of the pandemic. Through an intersectional perspective, other concepts such as “cultural trauma” can serve to understand the complexity of socially-influenced mental health and expand healing concepts through inspired exchange.
Reach out to others or someone from the collective. The collective energy of solidarity has your back. Healing power to you.
- Racial discrimination as race-based trauma, coping strategies and dissociative symptoms among emerging adults. Link
- Racial Trauma: Theory, Research, and Healing: Introduction to the Special Issue. Link
- The Effects of COVID-19 and Collective Identity Trauma (Intersectional Discrimination) on Social Status and Well-Being. Link
Further materials for healing:
- Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma (2020) by Gail Parker
- Racial Anxiety Relief – Tapping Meditation. Link
- A Meditation on Grief and Injustice. Link
- Race Based Trauma Resources and Support in Times of Civil Strife. Link
- Black Lives Matter Meditation for Healing Racial Trauma by Dr. Candice Nicole. Link
- Liberate: A meditation app for Black people. Link
- Healing in the Face of Cultural Trauma Tool Kit (for Black people). Link
- HEART Framework: Healing Ethno And Racial Trauma Framework (using the case of Latinx) Link