Racial trauma in the workplace and at home can significantly impact your mental and emotional well-being. It can also affect your children, career opportunities, and social interactions. Learn to heal from traumatic racial events to live a happier and healthier life. Here’s how.
Racial trauma happens every day. One of the most prevalent places this occurs is in the workplace. It’s likely you have even experienced it and may not have known. That’s because racism can be a hard pill to swallow for the aggressor and a challenging topic for the victim to discuss. Thus, many work environments produce racial trauma and other mental health issues.
We spend almost one-third of our lives at our jobs. While some people report feeling comfortable and safe, many encounter barriers based solely on the color of their skin. In fact, forty-two percent of black Americans say they have experienced racism in the workplace. This creates trauma for nearly everyone who endures it.
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Trauma is a broad term that describes the effects of a distressing event. That means it happens when we face overwhelming stress, most significantly when it exceeds our ability to cope. Meanwhile, racial trauma isn’t usually centered on a specific occurrence. It typically involves multiple interactions over days, weeks, or years. Failure to process the effects of racism can lead to long-term negative results, self-deprecating habits, and a cycle of violence to oneself or others.
Racially traumatic events impact the brain of the person experiencing them. However, people can suffer from race-based trauma just by witnessing it. Discrimination and persistent prejudice (implicit or elicit) can be uncomfortable things to watch. Regardless of the fact, racial discrimination permeates the American workplace, which causes a measurable change in how blacks and other races interact. As a result, sociologists also warn about the subsequent generational racism.
Some trauma gets passed down from one generation to the next. For example, the previous enslavement of Africans continues to serve as a source of trauma for black people today. Also, descendants of Holocaust survivors show increased susceptibility to psychological disturbances directly related to their upbringing. Therefore, studies reveal how generational racism begins and thrives in a corrupt society.
Past or present racism can have lasting effects on a person’s mentality and sense of self-worth. Common traumatic stress reactions reflecting racial trauma can include:
- Maladaptive Socialization
- Eating Disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Even more severe illnesses can be linked to racial trauma. The reason is that this specific brand of distress can cause physical health problems. Thickened arteries, hypertension, and unstable heart rates are more common among trauma survivors. However, stress of any kind can negatively affect the human body. But racial trauma can also ruin a person’s self-esteem and sense of ambition.
The subsequent behavior patterns can create students and workers who avoid situations rather than embrace them. They might even believe there is a limit to what they can do, see, or achieve. Then victims of racial inequality enter the workforce to face blatant discrimination, and the results can be devastating.
Racial trauma in the workplace takes many forms. Yet, not every employee makes their suffering apparent, and some companies avoid the issue by enabling problems to persist. If your job implements strategies to prevent racially charged interactions, that’s a good thing. However, it may not be enough to help those already traumatized.
Some companies only avoid racial tension by scheduling workers around a known antagonist. Other businesses might develop equity policies but refuse to enforce them. In severe cases, people who complain about racial discrimination risk being ostracized, overlooked for advancement, or fired. Thus, trauma caused by racism often sounds like silence.
Your job should feel safe, if not satisfying. Regardless of your race or ethnic background, you shouldn’t worry about losing your job when holding companies accountable. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs belong at the top of every organization’s priority list, regardless of the industry. However, not enough companies implement equality incentives to help workers avoid racism and racial trauma.
While businesses may do their best with “open door policies” and strict “no harassment” rules, it is impossible to avoid or eliminate discrimination and racism completely. Sixty percent of employees have witnessed racial tension or been the victims of discrimination at work. The reality is that a company or a corporation cannot control every individual’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.
Therefore, effective anti-discrimination procedures should include an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) to support mental health and foster better race relations. Leaders in your industry should also hold open forums to give all races a voice in the company. Good managers may also lead team-building exercises to boost social support and establish meaningful relationships between colleagues.
Racial trauma responses must not involve aggressive tones, threats, or violence. Negative encounters are typically counterproductive and damaging to workplace morale. It’s better to maintain a sense of dignity, respect, and compassion when responding instead. Make it evident that speaking up is allowed by encouraging people to air their grievances about workplace discrimination.
For starters, reach out to a mental health professional when coping with racial trauma. The reason is that PTSD is a complex disorder that requires treatment from an expert. You cannot expect your workplace to provide all the necessary tools for healing.
In the meantime, use these 8 tips for healing racial trauma because getting better is your responsibility:
Part of the healing is opening yourself up and having honest conversations. Being able to express yourself, what you experienced, and how it has affected you is crucial. When you speak about something, you remove its power over your mind and can start to let go. However, your confidants must be trustworthy and compassionate, lest they make you feel worse.
It can be challenging to get honest with yourself, but do that first. Take enough time to review various situations and evaluate the effects. Then try to see things from another perspective before assimilating racist questions, comments, or concerns into “the book of you.” In some cases, you might have misunderstood someone’s intentions or felt attacked because of trauma-based brain responses.
TIP: Be open and honest about your views, feelings, and expectations so that coworkers and managers can determine the best approach.
Practice some self-love. Daily positive affirmations can help you love yourself and appreciate all you are. Despite enduring racism or hateful comments, you can let go of the negativity to embrace positivity. After all, a positive thought is ten times more powerful than a negative one, regardless of how each feels in the moment.
A positive attitude is crucial to achieving your goals. However, it can seem impossible to see the good in life with a negative mindset. Meanwhile, negativity can deplete your motivation and hinder productivity, making you feel even worse. Start focusing on positive self-talk instead.
TIP: Do something that makes you feel proud of who you are, even if that means starting a new hobby.
Begin interacting with people in your community, focusing on like-minded individuals or groups. Remember, you can grow when you step outside your comfort zone. It’s also beneficial to establish healthy relationships with others to build yourself a small support system.
Do something to spark a positive change, especially for your race. Participate in activism activities and get involved with social equity groups. These people will understand your racial trauma, and you can bond with them over shared experiences. Doing something evocative with your trauma can encourage others to do the same.
TIP: Look for DEI experiences, events, and volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood.
The concept behind mindfulness is simple. It involves examining your thoughts then comparing them with your emotions, behaviors, habits, and reactions. However, the key is to consider those things without judging yourself or others. Look at the topic objectively instead.
Mindfulness meditation helps trauma victims recover by making them more aware of their current situation. According to the National Institute of Health data, mindfulness-based therapies can positively impact a person’s mindset and support emotional stability. Moreover, specific meditative states can release a mood-boosting chemical called dopamine, which helps fight off depression and anxiety.
TIP: Concentrate on uplifting topics or encouraging news to develop a mental script when meditating.
Racial trauma often forces us to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as anger and isolation. Boundaries are encouraged in most situations. However, victims of racial inequality can overcorrect behaviors and push people away instead of embracing new relationships.
Healthy boundaries typically look like this:
- Being proud of your ideas and accomplishments regardless of nay-sayers
- Asking for or accepting help when you need it without feeling uncomfortable
- Knowing when and where to share personal information with others
- Accepting and respecting other people’s boundaries
- Avoiding aggressors through intolerance of their racist behaviors
- Standing up for what you know is right
Your boundaries should express dependability, trustworthiness, and confidence. They communicate that you feel at ease and safe in your own skin. Healthy standards also set the tone for how other people treat you on and off the job.
TIP: Show others how to treat you by treating them with equal respect and dignity.
Most stress and anxiety occur when a person feels out of control of their thoughts or emotions. However, nobody can predict what will happen next. The only answer is learning to control how you respond to racial injustice, workplace discrimination, and the effects of racial trauma.
Empower yourself with better coping strategies for stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Stop playing the victim and transform yourself into the victor. Stay strong. Get balanced, and become satisfied with your life and the things in it.
TIP: Take inventory of the positive aspects of your life and write a list for future review.
Focusing on your values means acting according to your beliefs. It’s all about being yourself and doing what you genuinely enjoy. Don’t do something you dislike just to make other people happy. Avoid it like the plague if it bothers you or doesn’t speak to your soul.
Your core values are the essence of who you are, regardless of others’ opinions or attitudes about it. So often try to hide who we really are because we fear our true selves won’t bode well with colleagues. Racial trauma often encourages code-switching and other apologetic habits. Meanwhile, there’s no such thing as being “too black” or “too ethnic.”
TIP: Begin researching your family history to define your values, goals, and opinions clearly.
Take a break from social media and mindless scrolling. Racism and negativity flow like water in the land of free speech. Yet, you can’t swim in a sea of racists and expect to come out dry. Stop feeding the machine, even if only for a day. Take time to refresh your perspective and step away from the nonsense instead.
Constantly comparing your life to someone else’s is unhealthy. It causes additional stress and can prolong your battle with racial trauma. Take a break if you start getting frustrated, angry, or resentful while scrolling social media or watching TV.
TIP: Step back to re-evaluate how you spend your free time.
Racial trauma affects everyone. It’s not limited to black, white, Hispanic, or Asian people. The American workplace is plagued with systematic racism and micro-aggressive tendencies that make workers feel undervalued and stressed. Some people are hostile, making them reflect their self-loathing onto others. However, you don’t have to play the victim anymore.
Health from the effects of racism in the workplace by starting with yourself. Then hold companies accountable for their actions (and inactions). You may have been hurt or offended many times. Yet, you can become the victor with the right approach.
About the Author
K. Edwin Bryant is a highly respected senior pastor, professor and academic, published author, and corporate strategist with a passion to advocate for underrepresented communities.
Dr. Bryant has a Ph.D. from Macquarie University, Sydney, AU in Ancient History: New Testament and Early Christianity. Currently, Bryant is the COO of Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, Senior Pastor and CEO of Dayton, Ohio’s Mount Pisgah Church, chairman of the Board for Tehillah Music Group, and an adjunct professor of the New Testament & Early Christianity.
He uses his leadership and influence to pry open spaces of white privilege and create pathways of equality and belonging for the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.
In Dr. Bryant’s book ChaRIOT: The New Cultural Conversation, he confronts difficult conversations to help non-blacks reinterpret public responses to oppression imposed on and experienced by the black community.
Dr. Bryant currently resides outside of Dayton Ohio with his wife and children. When he’s not working on a multitude of projects or catching up on trending events; you might find him watching Netflix (especially the Blacklist) or hitting the piano inspired by artists such as Robert Glasper, Moonchild, and Corey Henry.