Racial Trauma, Management, and Self-care Workshop: Module One

Racial Trauma and Its Effects on People and Communities

According to Dr. Kenneth V. Hardy, “Racial oppression is a traumatic form of interpersonal violence which can lacerate the spirit, scar the soul, and puncture the psyche.”

What is Racial Trauma?

Racial trauma, a form of race-based stress, can develop when Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are repeatedly exposed to repetitive acts of racism. Although similar to posttraumatic stress disorder, racial trauma is unique in that it involves the collective impact of racism and race-based stress on individuals as well as communities of color. Racial trauma may result from acts of racial discrimination, directly or indirectly witnessing racial violence, historical or intergenerational trauma, institutional racism, microaggressions, and the increased exposure to media depictions of racism.

Understanding Racial Trauma

What Effects Do Racism and Racial Trauma Have on Your Health and Well-Being?

Racial trauma can take a toll on your physical and emotional health. Although you may experience and react to racial trauma in different ways, repeated exposure to racism and discrimination can lead to the following symptoms. Take some time to review the below list of signs and possible reactions that you may experience as a result of racial stress or trauma.

Potential Reactions to Racial Stress and Trauma:



  • Thoughts & feelings pop into one’s mind
  • Re­living what happened ­ feels like it’s happening again
  • Getting upset at reminders


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

Increased arousal

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


  • Things feel unreal, like a dream
  • Trouble remembering parts of what happened
  • Disorganized and behavior no longer predictable or regulated

Changes in Your Behavior or Actions:

  • Increase or decrease in activity level
  • Short temper and/or angry outbursts
  • Non-stop talking
  • Difficulty communicating or listening
  • Inability to rest or relax
  • Decline in job performance; absenteeism
  • Frequent crying
  • Hyper-vigilance or excessive worry
  • Becoming accident prone
  • Alcohol or drug use to cope
  • Increased sleep or trouble sleeping

Changes in Your Body:

  • Stomach aches
  • Headaches
  • Body aches, pains, and/or tension
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Sweating or chills
  • Tremors, muscle twitching, and/or muscle fatigue
  • Being easily startled
  • Chronic fatigue or sleep disturbances
  • Immune system issues (e.g. catching more colds)

Changes in Your Emotions:

  • Feeling heroic, euphoric, or invulnerable
  • Denial
  • Worry, anxiety, or fear
  • Confusion
  • Depression (sense of sadness and/or hopelessness)
  • Guilt
  • Apathy
  • Grief
  • Hopeless or suicidal thoughts
  • Loneliness
  • Anger or heightened irritability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of humiliation
  • Lack of trust
  • Difficulty controlling emotions

Changes in Your Thinking:

  • Memory problems
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Slow thought processes
  • Lack of concentration
  • Difficulty setting priorities or making decisions
  • Negative self-­talk
  • Negative attitude
  • Poor judgment
  • Lack of self­-confidence

Social Changes:

  • Isolation 
  • Blaming
  • Difficulty in giving or accepting support or help
  • Inability to experience pleasure or have fun.

What Effects Does Racial Trauma Have on Communities of Color?

The collective experiences of racial trauma can have significant impacts on the physical, social, and psychological health of families and communities. The historical trauma transmitted across generations can result in higher rates of mental and physical health issues within communities of color.

Racial Trauma is Real: The Impact of Police Shootings on African Americans, an article by Dr. Erlanger A. Turner and Jasmine Richardson (2016) discusses how communities of color are impacted by repeated exposure to discrimination and racism and offer steps for healing after experiencing racial injustices in the community.

Page last modified April 12, 2022