Racial and Cultural Trauma: Self and Community Care

According to The Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture:

Racial Trauma is one term used to describe the physical and emotional symptoms that people of Color often experience after exposure to particularly stressful experiences of racism (Carter, 2007). And, these racism experiences never exist in isolation; racial trauma is a cumulative experience, where every personal or vicarious encounter with racism contributes to a more insidious, chronic stress (Carter, 2007).

From: Jernigan, M. M., Green, C. E., Perez-Gualdron, Liu, M. M, Henze, K. T., Chen, C….Helms, J. E. (2015).#racialtraumaisreal. Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture, Chestnut Hill, MA. Retrieved from /schools/lsoe/isprc/manuscript415.html

Signs of Racial Trauma

Racial trauma can be experienced in our bodies and minds in many ways. The Community Healing Network, Inc., and The Association of Black Psychologists identified the following stress and trauma reaction signs in their document Family-Care, Community-Care, and Self-Care Tool Kit: Healing in the Face of Cultural Trauma:


  • Thoughts and feelings pop into one's mind
  • Re-living what happened - feels like it's happening again
  • Feeling overwhelmed when reminded

Increased Arousal

  • Always afraid something bad will happen
  • More easily startled/jumpy
  • Trouble with sleep or concentration
  • Go into fight or flight mode


  • Try to block it out and not think about it
  • Try to stay away from reminders
  • Feel numb or no emotions


  • Things feel unreal - like a dream
  • Trouble remembering parts of what happened
  • Freak out (disorganized, behavior no longer predictable or regulated)

Other Possible Signs

  • Increased sleep, trouble sleeping, increased or loss of appetite, sense of sadness and/or hopelessness, isolation or withdrawal from others, alcohol or drug use to cope, anger, heightened irritability with others, increased body aches and pains, headaches, muscle fatigue.

What You Can Do

It can be difficult to know where to begin when you are experiencing racial trauma. Here are some suggestions, again from the document, #racialtraumaisreal:


  • There is no "right" way to react.
  • Increase self-awareness through journaling, practicing mindful body scans to check for signs of stress and anxiety, and active reflection.


  • Talk to people you trust, including friends, family members, confidantes, colleagues, and spiritual advisors.

Seek Support

  • Seeking guidance and support from others will help to facilitate positive coping and management of racial trauma responses.

Empower Yourself Through Resistance

  • Channel hurt, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness into social change activities.
  • Stay connected to your community; draw from the wisdom, support, and solidarity you will find.
  • Mentor youth.

Take Care of Yourself

  • Self-care is a survival skill, necessary to counter the negative effects of stress and repeated trauma.


Some ideas from Family-Care, Community-Care, and Self-Care Tool Kit: Healing in the Face of Cultural Trauma:

  • Self-monitor for signs of stress and trauma. Know the signs that you are under stress and be open to feedback from others who might notice.
  • Restore the well that is you. Rest, relax, engage in energizing activities.
  • Let others replenish the well. Ask for help. Seek nurturing from those who love and understand you.
  • Stay spiritually grounded. Prayer, mindfulness - connect with whatever your higher power may be.
  • Remember your body. Relax, meditate, exercise, eat well, sleep, and BREATHE. Avoid or minimize use of tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and caffeine.
  • Stay informed but monitor how often. Unplug. Avoid reading the comments sections after online articles or blog posts. Limit your exposure to triggers.
  • Be intentionally kind and gentle with yourself and those around you. Laugh, practice random acts of kindness, speak positively to yourself and others.

Additional Resources

Black Health Matters

JustJasmineBlog: Self-Care for People of Color After Psychological Trauma

Self-Care for Activists: Sustaining Your Most Valuable Resource

Everything Is Awful and I'm Not OK: Questions to ask before giving up

11 Black Queer and Trans Women Discuss Self-Care

Each Little Spark - blog on a range of topics from depression and despair to the challenges of self-care

The Steve Fund -dedicated to the well-beng and emotional health of students of color. Crisis text line (text "STEVE" to 741741), scholarships, articles, blog, and other resources for students of color.

Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism - From Ferguson to Charleston

11 Things White People Can Do to be Anti-Racist Allies

Guidelines for Being Strong White Allies