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Did You Know?: Racial Stressors Are Real and Dangerous

Following the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., there were nearly 1,500 reported incidents of anti-Asian racism in just one month. Reports included incidents of physical and verbal attacks as well as reports of anti-Asian discrimination in private businesses.

In 2018, 38% of Latinx people were verbally attacked for speaking Spanish, were told to “go back to their countries,” called a racial slur, and/or treated unfairly by others.

Television and film began popularizing stories of racial trauma and racism in 2019, with television series like “Underground,” “Lovecraft Country” and “Them,” documenting everyday acts of overt racism and violence against different groups. From the proliferation of these shows, placed their entertainment value against growing concerns from Black viewers that the shows harmed audiences – and subsequently earned the description, “trauma porn.”

Additionally, social media, through sites like WorldStar, projected real-life incidents of racial violence as a type of sport, with little regard for the subjects in the video clips.

Americans seemed to have developed an appetite for violence – and if that violence pitted people of different races against one another, it was all the better. It has become so debased a spectator sport to watch fights inside Walmart or McDonalds that I would liken it to watching hangings or guillotine executions of France in the 1790s,” sociologist Gwendolyn McMahon told The Informer. “There is real trauma that comes from viewing these clips because it raises anxiety levels of when encountering others. It’s as if the nation is turning xenophobic and fearful of other races because they fear violent attacks.”

McMahon said that as the nation begins to grapple with its foundational racism, there is a level of resistance. She cites the realization that many negative health outcomes experienced by African Americans and touted widely in scientific journals are grounded in how they process racism go unaddressed within the health community. Here are types of traumas related to racism that impact the nation routinely.

Direct Traumatic Stressors

Direct traumatic stressors include all direct traumatic impacts of living within a society of structural racism or being on the receiving end of individual racist attacks. A person experiencing a direct traumatic stressor may be heavily policed, or they may face barriers to homeownership due to inequitable policies.

Additionally, a person experiencing a direct traumatic stressor may be the victim of individual physical and verbal attacks or may face other microaggressions.

Vicarious Traumatic Stressors

Vicarious traumatic stressors are the indirect traumatic impacts of living with systemic racism and individual racist actions. Vicarious traumatic stressors can have an equally detrimental impact on BIPOC’s mental health as direct traumatic stressors. For example, viewing videos of brutal police killings of Black people, such as the video associated with the murder of George Floyd, can cause traumatic stress reactions in the people who view them – especially in Black people.

 

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