Do we all have PTSD?: Mental health in an age of racial terror
The psychological trauma inflicted by racism isn't just a notion...there's real science behind it and how it affects us
It’s time we were all honest with ourselves and admitted that the Black community (as a whole) is terrified.
And the data is now showing we have a reason to be.
Frequent police killings, racially based street harassment, overzealous (and at times criminal) treatment of our children in the school system, and a constant barrage of footage that features Black and Brown bodies being executed in broad daylight — have left many Black Americans with a form of racial trauma that mimics all the symptoms of PTSD.
READ MORE: Hate crimes report shows race still an issue
People who are experiencing post traumatic stress disorder typically fall into bouts of depression, have a fear based distrust of their surroundings, are anxious, hyper alert and have angry outbursts when triggered.
Any of this sound familiar?
The very same trauma-based behaviors that would garner sympathy from a war vet — illicit annoyed raised brows when coming from young Black activists attempting to give a voice to the voiceless.
Call it what it is
Before we can effectively address this problem, we must first call it by it’s proper name and concede that racism is literally making us mentally ill.
According to Erlanger Turner, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown, “Racial trauma is experiencing psychological symptoms such as anxiety, hyper-vigilance to threat, or lack of hopefulness for your future as a result of repeated exposure to racism or discrimination.”
Unfortunately, a lack of hopefulness is something that’s become so normalized in our community we don’t even notice it anymore.
Tuesday, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced that the two Baton Rouge, La., officers involved with the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling will not face state charges in his death. And instead of being shocked, without even thinking about it — I just shrugged, the way so many of us do when we find out yet another Black family won’t be getting justice for their loved one.
That apathetic reaction to blatant and egregious acts of injustice is yet another earmark of racial trauma.
“Research has consistently shown that visual exposure to events can be traumatic,” Turner explains. “I particularly believe that the recent news coverage of police shootings of Black and Brown men will cause some short-time trauma for individuals, especially children. I strongly encourage parents to limit exposure to this type of news coverage.”
But how exactly do you do that when gruesome dashcam videos are becoming as common as pop up ads?
What we already knew
Even researchers are finally beginning to recognize the psychological effects of racism on people of color. In 2012, Chou, T, Asnaani, A. & Hofmann, S. found that, “perceived racial discrimination was associated with increased mental disorders in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans, suggesting that racism may in itself be a traumatic experience.”
And it turns out racially motivated micro-aggressions can do just as much damage to our psyche’s as more obvious offenses.
The concept of “cultural paranoia” was first introduced to the world in 1968 by two black psychiatrists named William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs in their book Black Rage.
Grier and Cobbs both asserted that black people develop this hyper-vigilance as protective mechanism against subtle but demeaning incidents that erode their self-esteem and sense of safety.
In a nutshell, your “angry” Black friend isn’t tripping — she or he is actually reacting to the mental trauma caused by constant exposure to a very real threat.
Even the FBI has now admitted that its data shows a spike in reported hate crimes the day after Trump succeeded in his deviant plan to “Make America Great Again” and got elected as somebody’s president.
In fact, there were more reported hate crimes on November 9th than any other day in all of 2016.
Okay, now what?
So what do we do with all this knowledge? Curl up in a ball and wait for the end?
In fact, instead of doing the usual “list of 5 ways to prioritize self-care” that most pieces like this end with, I’m going to be very blunt and state the obvious.
If you think you may be experiencing any of the racial fatigue or PTSD symptoms listed above, PLEASE go see a therapist.
It’s time we stopped downplaying our issues and started encouraging each other to get help. Gone are the days when therapists are seen as a luxury line-item for wealthy, fragile, white socialites.
As celebrities like Will Smith and even Jay Z begin to wax poetic about the virtues of emotional health, a whole new generation of black people are coming to realize that getting your mind right … is a good look.
The future of our community depends on it.
Follow Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric