As a society, we often talk about racism, but rarely ever do we talk about how it affects the health of our people. I call racism “the multifaceted abuser” because it has emotional, physical, mental and spiritual effects on our community. Research shows that racism can lead to anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, chronic stress, chronic fatigue, bodily inflammation, internalized racism and symptoms similar to post traumatic stress disorder. This is called racial trauma.
In the world of psychology, there is no way to assess, diagnose or treat racial trauma. Definitions of trauma are based on eurocentric experiences, and so it makes sense that racism is not recognized as a form of abuse. Black people have been dehumanized for centuries. When you are able to strip an entire community of it’s human qualities, it becomes that much easier to neglect the fact that the community experiences pain. In truth, our experiences are real, our trauma is real, and the healing we deserve is real.
I often think about what it would look like to create and activate a holistic strategy that enables our people to rest, rehabilitate and rebuild. I believe that one way to realize this strategy is to work with our Four Bodies. Our ancestors knew that our health was more than just about the physical, that our bodies are made up of four distinct parts: the mental body, the emotional body, the physical body and the spiritual body. Trauma can be stored in these different parts of our being, and so by working with our four bodies, we remind ourselves of our full humanity. Below is what a holistic approach to coping with racial trauma can look like:
The Mental Body: Easing Our Minds After a Racially Traumatic Incident
The mental body is where we house our thoughts, beliefs, opinions and our sense of value. After experiencing racial trauma, it is possible to be anxious, stressed, and frantic. In order to create space for healing in the mental body we can:
- Unplug. Take some time away from viral videos and media. Vicarious trauma can create more anxiety and stress.
- Pause: Take time off from work or school if you can. This will help reduce the mental load you have to deal with during the day.
- Talk: Release the thoughts in your mind to a licensed therapist who knows how to make space for your racial trauma. This is key.
The Emotional Body: Releasing Emotions After a Racially Traumatic Incident
The emotional body is where we house our lived experiences and the feelings attached to them. After experiencing racial trauma, it is possible to feel sadness, anger, resentment and depression. In order to create space for healing in the emotional body we can:
- Feel: Allow yourself to express sadness, anger and fear so that they do not remain trapped in your body. Trapped emotions can lead to bodily inflammation.
- Gather: Surround yourself with people who give you a safe space to express your emotions. Your emotions deserve a soft landing place.
- Write: Take the time to journal about your experience and accept the emotions that emerge as you do so. You may feel a sense of relief.
The Physical Body: Transforming Tension After a Racially Traumatic Incident
The physical body is the tangible part of our bodies that we see and feel. Racial trauma can lead to chronic fatigue, body inflammation and other physical ailments. In order to create space for healing in the physical body we can:
- Rest: Take a moment to sleep and take naps. Rest is a reparational practice for our people whose bodies have been exploited.
- Move: Walk, dance, stretch, run or shake your body. Allow your body to release the pent up energy within you. You may feel the pressure decrease.
- Self-Massage: Release tension stored in the muscles and tissues in your body. You may get emotional, that just means the energy is being released.
The Spiritual Body: Returning to Ourselves After a Racially Traumatic Incident
The spiritual body houses your essence. After experiencing racial trauma, it is common to feel hopeless, demoralized and low vibrational. In order to create space for healing in the spiritual body we can:
- Meditate: Take a moment of reflection to remind you how divine you are. It is easy to forget how special you are when you experience racism.
- Reclaim: Read, listen to, watch, or go to events that can help you regain a sense of pride in your racial identity.
- Organize: Engage with and support local anti-racist organizations that can help you feel hopeful and empowered.
While the only way for us to truly heal from racial trauma is for racism to be dismantled, my hope is that this toolkit can offer some guidance on how we can cope as we work towards this mission. We are so often expected to take on the role of dismantling racism that we forget that the main job of a survivor of abuse is to heal. Centering healing in our narrative is a radical act because it reminds us that we are human — something that society has tried to make us forget. Now is the time to lean into practices that our ancestors set aside for us.
About the Writer: Jacquelyn Ogorchukwu designs digital +physical products and experiences that promote inclusive wellness. She is currently based in the East Coast