The Same Ugly Problem – Racism & Trauma, How POCs Can Cope
by Aanchal Ram Vombatkere | July 2, 2020, updated over 1 year ago
Whether it happens in the workplace, at a #BLM protest, or as the result of an accumulation of small incidents over time, many people are dealing with trauma caused by the same ugly problem––racism.
I am a native Desi from the breathtaking Indian subcontinent, and my people are only one of the many groups of people of color (POCs) who face rampant discrimination and targeted violence around the world. 2020 has been an exceptional year in that it has highlighted racial tensions across the planet, predominantly the systemic racism that black folk in the US struggle against every day. The woes of POCs around the world are many, and span across a variety of cultures. Be it the unfair treatment of the African community in Asia, the violence against the Indian community in Australia, or the under-investigated disappearances of indigenous women in Canada, racism happens in most countries and most cultures. It's safe to say that the world needs some work.
Racial trauma––the name for the specific form of traumatization that a person of color goes through when exposed to racial discrimination such as targeted racist assaults, systemic injustice, or an accumulation of microaggressions. The experience of racism causes many ethnic and racial groups to experience higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as compared to White Americans. According to the American Psychological Association, racial trauma may lead to a PTSD diagnosis, and your PTSD may be triggered when you experience unpleasant reminders of racially charged encounters, bad moods, or hyperarousal.
Therapists who are not well equipped to handle the unique struggle that POCs face on a fairly regular basis may be uncomfortable discussing racial issues. Many non racialized groups are socialized to demonstrate non-racist values by simply not talking about race. However, this approach leaves practitioners and therapists ill-equipped to have conversations about race with their clients of color.
Race has become a highly discussed topic, and possibly the most visible subject on social media over the past month. The recent prevalence of discussions about race are no surprise given current events, but racism itself has been around for, well, forever.
Watching the world burn isn’t fun for most people, and for people of color the concussive effect of endless news about violence towards folk like them can be difficult to cope with, and a potential contributing factor to racial trauma.
In trying to figure out how to address, explore, and tackle systemic racism, I looked to Kayla Breelove Carter from Breelove Counselling to help me shed some light on how to address racial trauma. Breelove Counselling has an admirable goal––to create and live in, a trauma-informed, and resilient community. They provide trauma-informed training for professionals like front line workers, first responders, teachers, and corrections officers. As a Licensed Counselling Therapist and a Clinical Traumatologist, Kayla is recognized for her creative ideas, as well as her broad range and in-depth knowledge on topics like individual and occupational trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and nutritional psychology. Her specialization provides her with a uniquely qualified position from which to discuss racial trauma and its treatment.
This is her response to a few of the questions I asked her––
A lot of people get overwhelmed by rampant racism all over the world. This isn’t new. Like me, many POCs find it hard to cope with an ever-evolving political and social climate. It feels impossible to keep up with everything going on around the world. What would you recommend doing to cope with feeling overwhelmed?
“First, I think it is important for us to be able to find a space where we can be compassionate with ourselves. As you mentioned, racism isn't new. We have lived in this type of systemic inequity for generations. We forget that the foundation of this system is traumatic for many racialized people. Some have found a space to which they can appreciate and share their traumatic understanding of what it is to live in a world where the color of your skin may determine success or even a sense of safety within communities. As things become global, because of our use of technology and social media, it will become that much more important [...] the intention we put towards self-compassion.”
Kayla’s advice resonated with me. As we scroll through our newsfeeds in disbelief, watching people of color all over the world struggle with systemic racism, it is important, to intentionally practice self-compassion. It is okay to feel overwhelmed and helpless, but it’s important to not beat yourself up about it. Acknowledging that self-compassion is critical, I went on to ask a few more questions.
What would you recommend to our readers who have found themselves in racially charged encounters? When you can’t really expect justice, how do you cope?
“I would say back again to self-compassion, we all experience [suffering] and pain. [Using] a trauma-informed lens, we also have to take into consideration that violence and hatred is a learned behavior, that most likely the people who commit these acts of hatred and violence, at one point in their lives, they too were children, they were taught by others. This does not excuse or justify their actions, however when we can see that humans suffer and experience pain from one spectrum to another, we can come to understand that we then deal with it from one spectrum to another ( fight, flight, or freeze).”
Kayla’s perspective brought to mind one of my favorite quotes from life coach Nara Lee, “When you look for a way and you can’t find or see a way, it means that time has come for you to make a way”
Coping with unresolved grief, taking the high road, and understanding the inner workings behind something as complex as racism is hard for everyone. My experiences of being called a ‘paki,’ and of being racially profiled have stuck with me, but as we all learn how to act with compassion towards ourselves, and as we educate each other about the existence of racism, we will hopefully begin to make some significant headway. If you are subject to discrimination or hate speech, in most cases, it is advised to talk to someone you trust about the incident and to try and remember that that person’s hate has very little to do with anything you’ve done.
What kind of race informed training do you provide? Why and what made you pursue it?
“At Breelove Counselling, our vision is clear, to live in a trauma-informed and resilient community. By saying this, it is very intersectional, at the same time, racial informed practices are intertwined in trauma. We have always provided trauma-informed training from front line workers to first responders, to teachers, and corrections. It is only recently, that I have felt as a result of being a traumatologist and a racialized woman, [...] I would use my expertise and personal experience to educate those who are interested in listening. The first step in dismantling systemic racism is to acknowledge it exists, challenge our own inner beliefs, and to them be vulnerable and courageous enough to want to talk and learn about it.”
Kayla believes that her extensive experience in trauma-informed counseling can help her allies and the participants in the BLM movement who have faced traumatic incidents or faced racial injustices. She looks at teaching others as an important part of her practice and recommends further education for everyone. It’s entirely possible that incidents of racial-trauma will rise over the next several months as POCs are exposed to ever more televised violence and racial distress. Approaching a therapist or professional who is knowledgeable about this issue can help ease the path to understanding and self-compassion. We likely won’t ‘solve’ racism anytime soon, but with the help and knowledge we can get from people like Kayla, we can hopefully improve the resilience of our communities and ourselves.
Aanchal Ram Vombatkere
Marketing Strategist + Feature Writer
Aanchal Ram Vombatkere is a well-traveled, culture and movie fanatic. She hails from Muscat, a humble city in the middle east, and traveled around the world from studying media and culture in India to film in Vancouver. Her desi roots explain her unquenchable curiosity about ancient medicine and history. She is also a filmmaker and critic, with an unreasonable love for Viola Davis.