What is Racialised Trauma? ACEs?

I was moved to write this after listening to Tupac Amaru Shakur on the radio; the specific lyrics are:

“We gotta make a change

 It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes

 Let’s change the way we eat

 Let’s change the way we live

 And let’s change the way we treat each other

 You see, the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do

 What we gotta do, to survive”

Tupac Amaru Shakur

Obesity, poor nutrition is not about choice. It’s a coping mechanism to racism, as is the dispositional traits we leave to the next generation and the internalisation of the same hate.

This blog took a long time to write; well, that’s a fib, the reading for this blog and a chapter I recently wrote took a long time. My thinking is detailed in that chapter in the book. 

Racism is traumatic. Its insidious fingers reach from the system’s modus operandi, the nervous system and even the expression of the codes in the cells of people of colour.

As educators, I’m sure that you are aware of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences); Felliti’s 1998 study included nearly 14’000 participants and found that folx who had higher scores of the twelve questions below were more likely to follow a path through neurological, sociological, emotional and cognitive development to adopt health risk behaviour which leads to lower quality of life as well as early death. 

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
  2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
  3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
  4. Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
  5. Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
  6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
  7. Was your mother or stepmother:
  8. Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
  9. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
  10. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?
  11. Did a household member go to prison

Since 1998 there has been adaption to the questions but barely a mention of racism. It’s time we talk about RAces. 

Even if we skip the categorization of the harm in traditional ACES, the impact of racism is intergenerational, and this also has a dispositional element. Racism is likely to impact melanated people and children from the point of conception. (Bernard et al. 2020)

How can Racialized Trauma present in People?

First, we need to think about triggers. 

I often state that racism is systemic and that although individual acts of racialized violence occur, these should not be our focus. When it comes to mental and physical health, it all matters. 

“Racism is considered a fundamental cause of adverse health outcomes for racial/ethnic minorities and racial and ethnic inequities in health.” (Williams, Lawrence and Davis, 2019) 

Mental health experiences are different for People of Colour. There are apparent differences in categorization; for example, there are many different cultural perspectives of co-dependency. In some cases is not seen as an illness at all. Why should our anglo eurocentric view supersede those others? (I will write about issues with DSM at some point too)

When Black and Latinx folx experience mental illness, their episodes tend to be more severe, persist for longer periods of time, and are more debilitating than the white majority. (Williams, 2018)

Racism is associated with a broad spectrum of diseases, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular (think COVID 19 and its impact) through an increase in allostatic load (hormonal and neuronal responses), inflammation, obesity, etc (Lewis, Cogburn and Williams 2015, Paradies et al. 2015 in William 2018).

When thinking about your classroom, we need to recognize the positionality between teacher and student. Racism is normally presented from those lines of power, such as watching family members (and yourself as a child) being dressed down by police, being denied a role or promotion based on your skin colour, being moved sets regardless of your ability, etc. As a teacher (especially if you are racialized as white), you are in a pivotal role, where the trust needs to be built from the remanent of broken promises and never demanded. 

I detail an introduction to racially informed classrooms and the impact of trauma in that upcoming book, so, need to double up on that work.

This impact of trauma is sometimes void of clarity and nonsequential. People of colour may even expect adverse treatment as a result, and creating these defensive barriers to protect themselves is dangerous in themselves. I can attest to these survival necessities, but James Baldwin says it so much more eloquently in a chapter called Previous Condition in ‘Going to see the man’ (which I would recommend ever teacher read).

“In all this running around I’d learned a few things, like a prizefighter learns to takes a blow or a dancer learns to fall, I’d learned how to get by. I’d learned how to get by. I’d learned never to be belligerent with policemen, for instance. No matter who was right, I was certain to be wrong.

After the first few times, I realised that I had to play smart, to act out the role I was expected to play.”

Lots to think about. Racism is not simple and delves deep into every nook and cranny of our lives.

Further Reading 

Williams D. R. (2018). Stress and the Mental Health of Populations of Color: Advancing Our Understanding of Race-related Stressors. Journal of health and social behavior59(4), 466–485. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146518814251

Felitti VJ, Anda RF, Nordenberg D, Williamson DF, Spitz AM, Edwards V, Koss MP, Marks JS. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Am J Prev Med. 1998 May;14(4):245-58. doi: 10.1016/s0749-3797(98)00017-8. PMID: 9635069.

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