This country finally signed legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday in June of 2021. “Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. Juneteenth honors the end of slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday” (History.com, 2023). However, while slavery has come to an end the aftermath of racial injustice and discrimination have not.
Everyone should be treated with decency and respect, and they should receive equitable outcomes. Mental health inequalities caused by racism and racial discrimination are especially prevalent among Black Americans today. According to studies, even vicariously experiencing racism can affect the mental and physical health of people of the same racial group.
Because of the country's culture and history of racism, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities are more vulnerable to racial trauma in the United States. Still, it's important to note that any individual who suffers emotionally as a result of a racist encounter can experience racial trauma.
Racial trauma can happen on a micro or macro scale:
According to the UNC School of Medicine (2023), “Microaggressions are the everyday slights, insults, putdowns, invalidations, and offensive behaviors that people experience in daily interactions with generally well-intentioned individuals who may be unaware that they have engaged in demeaning ways”.
Examples of microaggressions might be a store clerk following a minority individual through the store, or white man/woman clutching their handbag/wallet when a black or Hispanic/Latino person enters the elevator, or discretely videoing a minority individual shopping in the grocery store for fear they are going to steal something.
These are the kinds of words, questions, or acts that are hurtful because they relate to a person's membership in a discriminated-against or stereotyped group. And one of the things that makes them so unsettling is that they happen so casually, regularly, and often without any malicious intent in everyday life.
“Are large‐scale systematic oppression of a target group by society's institutions, such as government, education, and culture, which can all contribute or reinforce the oppression of marginalized social groups while elevating dominant social groups” (National Institutes of Health, 2023).
Examples of macroaggression might be denying housing or employment to people of color, or burning a cross on the lawn of a black family. And a more recent example that was videoed for the world to see, the vicious murder of George Floyd.
How does racial injustice affect mental health?
Racial trauma's impacts on mental health are widely documented, and they can be severe. Continuous discrimination and racism constitute a sort of chronic stress for oppressed groups such as Black people and other BIPOC populations. Racism is significantly related to poor health, including mental health (Schouler-Oak, 2021). Higher levels of perceived discrimination among African Americans in the United States are associated with poorer health practices, such as sleeping less and smoking, as well as worse health outcomes, such as an increased prevalence of obesity.
One factor contributing to the insidious nature of racial trauma is the concern that comparable experiences may occur again. There is a fear that not only will a person of color be treated unfairly or in an isolated incident, but that their safety will be jeopardized and that this will happen again. When you are constantly on alert, both mentally and emotionally, it causes a physiological stress reaction.
Here are some ways we can cope:
Talk to the opposition. Find out what they are afraid of or have issues with. Often just having open, honest dialogue in a non threatening or judging atmosphere can help solve issues or at least discover where you have common ground
Stay connected to your community. Advocate for better social policies. Things won’t change if you don’t get involved.
VOTE! Too many people died and fought for the right. You have a voice. Use It!
Get help if you are struggling. For far too long we have stigmatized people of color for seeking mental health services. It's hurting us, not helping. Get help.
Know that no matter what this world may think of you, You are fearfully and wonderfully made, in the likeness and image of God the Father all life. No one can ever take that away from you.