Art by Qwen Walls
I haven’t seen this phrase used anywhere so I’m going to coin it here, “Racial Trauma Fatigue”. My working definition of this is: A cumulative feeling of emotional and psychological exhaustion that stems from the distress of constantly experiencing and/or witnessing racist events.
As a country we have repeatedly witnessed brutality and injustice against people of color, particularly within the last year. From the seemingly never-ending list of black people being murdered by police, to anti-Asian attacks, to legislation being passed aimed at deterring black and brown voters, watching this country devolve and revert back to a pre-civil rights era feels very psychologically distressing. And many of us watching who are part of the communities being egregiously targeted are tired. Just tired.
Constantly hearing about or witnessing covert and/or violent acts of racist oppression can cause an emotional exhaustion that’s not always readily identifiable. It’s a weighty composite comprised of anger, hurt, fear and frustration that typically takes a subconscious toll. And that toll can manifest into a mental, emotional and physical exhaustion.
Many people of color are so used to being beleaguered with racist occurrences that we get used to it and become unaware of the trauma we’re experiencing and how it’s impacting our well-being. As we watched the life be drained from Mr. George Floyd, so went the shreds of our mental and emotional tolerance for racist conduct. Witnessing that murder on national telelvision, for many, was the last emotional straw. That cold-hearted murder was a turning point in our collective psyche that left us psychologically depleted.
Our response to this depletion is on a frustrating spectrum. From spontaneously combusting into tears, to experiencing a psychological numbness, many of us are struggling to keep our mental health above water. And that emotional labor is wearing us out.
The internalization of the racist injustices we’re witnessing is a weighty load to carry every day, especially when you feel you can’t put it down anywhere. There seem to be no breaths between hostile, racist events. As soon as you’ve finished processing one thing, something else happens. Each and every account conjures a circus-like balancing act of mourning, getting angry, being sad, and feeling helpless. It often feels as if we’re mired in an emotional gumbo with no pathway out. So like our ancestors, we just keep moving and living with the weight of it all on our backs, and what is at times, a mustard seed of faith.
Living in a racist society is exhausting. And we get tired of being strong. We get tired of keeping our head up. We get tired of fighting. And that is fine. That is normal. That is human. Racial Trauma Fatigue is real. We owe it to ourselves to recognize and honor our anguish and do whatever we can to facilitate our continuous journey of healing. A few ideas that can help reduce race related distress are:
- Seek therapy
- Find safe and supportive spaces
- Disconnect from social media and news
- Express your feelings with others who support you
- Take up a hobby
- Take mental health days
- Exercise to relieve stress
Hoping you are able to put down the load, if only for a moment. As always, wishing you good mental health!