Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and its Connection to Racism

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and its Connection to Racism

Categories: News

Written by Jamaal Smith, Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!”
“You’re pretty for a Black girl!”
“I can’t breathe!”
“Guilty!”
“Criminals!”
“Rapists!”
“Drug dealers!”

All of these statements or declarations are common when referencing people of color.  The belief in biological inferiority of Black and Brown people in comparison to their white counterparts contributes to the progression of prejudice, which produces “justified”, harmful acts in the name of racial intolerance and bigotry.  People of color are constantly pressed with being subjected to racism on a daily basis.  Black parents have regular conversations with their children on how to deal with police, teachers, employers, or other positions of authority largely populated with white people.  Asian and Hispanic Americans have indeed received their unfair share of racism; however, studies have shown that African Americans have experienced significantly more instances of racial discrimination.  Furthermore, African Americans who have experienced racism are more likely to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD has been largely diagnosed among military veterans who have returned home from war.  However, it is fair to say there has been a racial war on African Americans and other people of color for centuries.  We have read stories of Black men returning from World War 1 only to be hung in the same uniform they wore in defending the freedom of their murderers.  Racism has long been an endemic disease focused on the corrosion of quality of life for people of color.  This disease has especially been taxing for African Americans, dating back to chattel slavery.  In her bestselling book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”, social scientist Dr. Joy DeGruy states, “Although slavery has long been a part of human history, American chattel slavery represents a case of human trauma incomparable in scope, duration, and consequence to any other incidence of human slavery.”  The racial stain created by white supremacy has left an indelible mark on people of color spanning over generations.

Racism has been determined as the main cause in maternal mortality for Black women.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women die at a rate of 40 per 100,000 births in comparison to 12 per 100,000 for white women.  This data is especially staggering because it is in spite of similar educational attainment and socioeconomic status.  Black women are more likely to experience racial bias from health care providers as well as receive subpar medical care, leading to higher risks of death.  In an institution where its physicians are required to take the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, Black and Brown people have been the victims of ill treatment.  This same treatment occurs in education, where the school-to-prison pipeline has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown students; workforce, where toxic work environments due to racial bias have led to many Black and Brown employees quitting their jobs; or the court system, where Black and Brown defendants have been given harsher sentences than whites for similar crimes.  Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us”, which depicts the life-changing experiences of the Central Park Five in 1989, sheds light on racism’s impact on people of color.  The list can go on and on.

If we are truly concerned about “liberty and justice for all”, then there needs to be a grand movement across systems, structures, institutions, neighborhoods, and communities that focuses on eradicating the existing presence of racism.  The lives of people in Black and Brown communities are depending on it.