by Melisse Ogilvie, Social Worker
Along with the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, our brothers and sisters in the United States have had to deal with another life-threatening issue, Racism.
Although we in Grenada are geographically removed from this situation, we have been indirectly affected by this scourge.
Institutional racism, racial violence and harassment understandably have adverse psychological impacts. Victims often present with symptoms of racial trauma or race-based stress. The symptoms are fear, anxiety, depression, helplessness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We need to understand that the trauma created by racism not only impacts the mental wellbeing of the victims, but also those who are in some way connected, like you and me.
We may not have understood why we felt so affected by these unfortunate events given that we are thousands of miles away. Even though, you might not have experienced racism directly, you might have friends and family who have been victims. Whichever way we look at it, we are connected to the events because we identify with the victims on the basis of race…or simply because we identify with issues of injustice as human beings. This connection puts us at risk of vicarious trauma or vicarious racism. Vicarious trauma, in this context, refers to the indirect experience of the racial discrimination as a result of hearing about or seeing another person’s experience.
The horrifying images and frequent commentary in the media may also produce an emotional response in us, such as feelings of numbness, emptiness and helplessness; or being totally lost for words. You may also find yourself becoming hyper-aroused or extremely careful. This is the danger of vicarious trauma; it impacts you when you hear other people’s stories.
Feelings of anxiety, confusion, helplessness and threat are expected when you think that this could happen to you or someone close to you. For instance, one friend shared that watching the video of George Floyd’s “murder” reminded her of her brother’s many traumatic encounters with the police in New York. The video evoked feelings of anxiety and fear for her brother’s life and safety. Those of us who have relatives in the United States may identify with having similar emotions.
In light of the protests over the last couple weeks, and the repeated highlighted incidents of racial injustice in the USA, many of us may experience an altered view of the United States like never before, therefore, we may travel there with trepidation, and be hypervigilant when we do. We may become acutely aware and more careful in what we do and where we go. Unfortunately, feelings of safety and freedom when we travel may be replaced by fear and anxiety.
If you have had a personal experience with any form of racism, the events may be a trigger for you. I remember speaking with my Nigerian friend right after the video footage of Ahmaud Arbery’s “murder” was released. At that time, she was experiencing sleeplessness and anxiety, as the video caused her to relive her own experiences of racism as a young person living in Austria, and again as a student in the United States.
We will continue to grieve and stand in solidarity with People of Colour in the United States, as we all have been impacted by these horrific events.
- What can we do to heal from the impact of vicarious or racial trauma?
- We can care for ourselves by seeking help to alleviate fears and anxiety.
- We can protect our minds by monitoring and limiting our exposure to the horrific images on television and social media.
- We can seek social support.
- We can get involved in discussions and activities that promote racial socialisation. Put simply, we can join the movement.
Let us fight the injustices and support our brothers and sisters in their quest to radically change their experience and let us continue to work here at home to foster tolerance and love in every area of our lives.