Discrimination is a traumatic experience and can cause depression, anxiety, and lead to racial trauma and although it is not a stated or recognized disorder yet, Medical News Today, states it can affect a person’s life in so many ways, including their ability to have relationships, concentrate on school or work, and feel safe.

Recently, I attended the online Racial Trauma series with Dr. Andrew Kami, the director of Student Psychological Counseling at Chapman University. Kami is biracial and bilingual; his father was Japanese, and his mother was Mexican. As a child, both of his parents passed away, so he experienced years of group-home living and racial trauma, which can also be called race-based stress or racial stress trauma. Kami hopes his study will help rehabilitate those who face racial trauma and those who cause it.

Before the session began, Dr. Kami shared a disclaimer about word usage, which meant if either one of us was bothered by a word choice, we should allow the space for one another to speak up and share why. The next foundation he established was the meaning of mental health: emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. He explained that our identities are affected by A.C.E.S., or Adverse Childhood Experiences Studies, which tend to measure higher in minority communities.

There are different types of racism. Macroaggression racism is forward and direct, even physical. Microaggression racism is subtle, intentional, or not intentional but assumes levels of inferiority. Structural racism is what is commonly referred to as systematic racism, and it can be exemplified in the housing market, harsher criminal sentencing, or discriminatory voter ID laws. When individuals experience any of these forms of racism, they start to believe them and begin to marginalize themselves.

One example Kami gave is when someone hears the same question or comment over and over again, the repetition makes a person “other” him, her, or themself. In a larger scope, when multiple situations cause these anxieties and are multiplied, the cumulative racial stress turns into physical anxiety, or trauma. Psychological experience turns into physiological experience and vice versa. Higher levels of stress over time might relax in a calm environment, for example, when a student comes to Chapman and feels safe. However, if triggered, anxiety can spike into an “acute symptomatic presentation” of the trauma.

Kami suggested ways to deal with racial trauma that can be done on one’s own or with help.

  • Attend to emotion: build emotional intelligence to recognize and understand different emotional states and own them.
  • Self-compassion: we often judge ourselves unfairly, find your happiness, then be kind and polite to yourself.
  • Limit negative messages: limit social media or anything that is triggering and exposes you to negative messaging.
  • Social support: find the people who speak your language, then you can validate one another.
  • Meaning: meaning falls in the middle between chaos and order, finding your own personal meaning will help bring change.

Racial trauma is an essential study, it offers people a powerful tool—language—that helps describe the issues they are facing. When equipped with the right words, people understand their personal experience and it empowers them to share it with others.