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Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children and Adolescents: Challenges and Clinical Implications



Despite continued efforts, racial trauma receives limited clinical attention within the field of psychology and social sciences. Consequently, racial trauma in the lives of Black children and adolescents is rarely, if ever, acknowledged by researchers, scholars, and practitioners. Schools, a common context for Black youths, are a consistent source of individual and systemic experiences of racism for Black youths. The authors use a developmental perspective to discuss the assessment and treatment of Black children and adolescents who inevitably experience racial trauma in their lives. The complexity of racial trauma is illustrated using case examples. Providers are encouraged to recognize the importance of assessment models and treatment interventions that incorporate the racial experiences of Black youths as an essential component of treatment.
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Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma
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Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children and Adolescents: Challenges
and Clinical Implications
Maryam M. Jernigana; Jessica Henderson Daniela
a Children's Hospital Boston,
Online publication date: 25 May 2011
To cite this Article Jernigan, Maryam M. and Daniel, Jessica Henderson(2011) 'Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black
Children and Adolescents: Challenges and Clinical Implications', Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 4: 2, 123 — 141
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/19361521.2011.574678
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Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 4:123–141, 2011
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1936-1521 print / 1936-153X online
DOI: 10.1080/19361521.2011.574678
Underserved Populations
Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children and
Adolescents: Challenges and Clinical Implications
Children’s Hospital Boston
Despite continued efforts, racial trauma receives limited clinical attention within the
field of psychology and social sciences. Consequently, racial trauma in the lives of
Black children and adolescents is rarely, if ever, acknowledged by researchers, scholars,
and practitioners. Schools, a common context for Black youths, are a consistent source
of individual and systemic experiences of racism for Black youths. The authors use a
developmental perspective to discuss the assessment and treatment of Black children
and adolescents who inevitably experience racial trauma in their lives. The complexity
of racial trauma is illustrated using case examples. Providers are encouraged to recog-
nize the importance of assessment models and treatment interventions that incorporate
the racial experiences of Black youths as an essential component of treatment.
Keywords adolescent, children, clinical issues, mental health, race/ethnicity, trauma
Imagine that you are Black child or adolescent living at a time when the first
Black President of the United States is elected. Imagine, as this Black child or
adolescent, that you live in a society where everyone around you tells you that
racism has been obliterated as a result of this historical event. You witness, as
you watch television or listen to conversations around you, the racism that the
President and his family face. You notice a particular story about a bakery that
is selling “drunken negro cookies” in “honor” of President Obama (Fox News,
2009). You also see the President and his wife being portrayed as caricatures
of monkeys. As this Black youth, you have a reaction that you cannot quite
explain or understand. Children and adolescents of color are not excluded
from the experiences of racial discrimination. If an adult as powerful as the
President of the United States consistently encounters individual and systemic
racism, how do Black children or adolescents begin to deal with this lifelong
phenomenon in their own lives?
Submitted March 25, 2010; revised July 21, 2010; accepted August 26, 2010.
Address correspondence to Maryam M. Jernigan, Yale University School of Medicine, 301
Cedar Street, 2nd Floor, New Haven, CT 06520. E-mail:
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124 M. M. Jernigan and J. H. Daniel
Race relations in the United States represent a long-standing pervasive social issue.
Race Matters, the titled proclamation of Cornel West’s 1993 classic, presents the complex-
ities of the sociopolitical history of race in the United States and its relevance to modern
day social issues. Given society’s historical reluctance to address race as a relevant topic
and the current assertion that race is an antiquated social issue, it can be difficult for Black
children and adolescents to make sense of racial dynamics in their environments. In what
many are now referring to as a postracial era (Pitts, 2009), mental health professionals
working with children and adolescents of color can easily discredit the notion that race
and racism are no longer salient issues in this society. Racial stress can emerge when sys-
tems are oblivious or unwilling to acknowledge the presence of racism and its negative
implications on the development of Black children and adolescents who are forced to find
ways to cope with the ongoing psychological stress. Psychologists have documented that
such racial stressors result in increased physical and psychiatric distress (Bryant-Davis &
Ocampo, 2005; Carter, 2007; Daniel, 2000). For Black youths, who often experience racial
oppression first-hand, having racially discriminatory experiences acknowledged and vali-
dated is essential to helping them resist oppressive environments (Jernigan, 2009; Nicolas
et al., 2008).
Carter (1994, 1995, 2004, 2005, 2007) has consistently argued that physiological, psy-
chological, and emotional damage result from racial harassment and/or discrimination. As
such, he has argued for the inclusion of race-based traumatic stress in the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition, text revision (DSM-IV-TR; American
Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000). He proposed that research demonstrates a connec-
tion between racial discrimination and a subsequent trauma response, including severe
stress reactions (Carter, 2007; Carter, Forsyth, Mazzula, &Williams, 2005). In Carter’s
(2007) major contribution, he presented a review of research of racism, discrimination,
stress, and trauma in an effort to articulate a psychological model of race-based traumatic
stress. Carter stated
Race-based events that may be severe or moderate, and daily slights or
microaggressions, can produce harm or injury when they have memorable
impact of lasting effect or through cumulative or chronic exposure to the
various types or classes of racism. The most severe forms may not be phys-
ical attacks. In the section on physiological reactions to racism, blatant forms
of discrimination were not often related to rises in heart disease risk, but
rather more subtle acts were related to potentially harmful physical reactions.
(pp. 89–90)
In this article, we propose that Black youths experience racism in the settings that
they exist as both observers and as direct victims. The APA Presidential Task Force on
Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma in Children and Adolescents (2009) cited discrim-
ination as a possible contributing factor to stress in the lives of racial and ethnic minority
children. Schools represent contexts where Black children and adolescents are particularly
vulnerable to racial discrimination and report racism on an individual and systemic level
(Cokely, 2006; Jernigan, 2009; Langhout, 2005; Morris, 2007; Perry, Steele, & Hilliard,
2003). Such experiences are traumatic and must be conceptualized and treated as such.
Racism is a “reality based and repetitive trauma” (Daniel, 2000, p. 126) in the lives of
Black children and adolescents. As such, racial trauma is a viable experience that contin-
ues to emerge as a significant concern for this population given its negative psychological
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Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children 125
implications. Membership in a racial and ethnic group can influence perception, impact,
and recovery when one has experienced a trauma (APA Presidential Task Force on
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma in Children and Adolescents, 2009; Helms,
2003; Jernigan, 2009; Sellers & Shelton, 2003). This article discusses the experiences of
Black youths from a developmental framework. We intend to introduce and discuss the
common, insidious, and compounding effects of racism for Black youths in school set-
tings. We illuminate the need for providers to better understand and be able to clinically
assess for issues of racial trauma in Black youths and intervene from a developmentally
appropriate strengths-based perspective.
Racial Trauma
Numerous scholars and researchers have produced literature that examines and identifies
the impact of trauma in the lives of children and adolescents (Brom, Pat-Horenczyk, &
Ford, 2009; Finkelhor, Turner, Ormond, Hamby, & Kracke, 2009; Mannarino & Cohen,
2011; Olafson, 2011; Osofsky, 2004; Overstreet, Salloum, Burch, & West, 2011; Reviere,
1996; Terr, 1990; Yahav, this issue). Missing from this literature is the inclusion of race-
based experiences as traumatic events. More recently, scholars have written about and
researched the psychological consequences of racism using a variety of names including,
racial trauma (Daniel, 2000), race-based traumatic stress (Carter, 2007; Carter & Forsyth
2009), and racial-incident based trauma (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005). Butts (2002),
arguing for the link between racial discrimination and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
in clinical cases, posited that African Americans who are subjected to racial discrimination
present with symptoms of PTSD. However, such symptoms are dismissed because they do
not meet current criteria in the DSM-IV-TR. According to Carter (2007), “...diagnosis
of PTSD requires that an individual be exposed to a form of external danger that is life
threatening, re-experience the trauma, avoid people and places associated with the trauma,
experience increased arousal, and have significant impairment in his or her daily function-
ing that lasts for at least 4 weeks” (p. 32–33). Further, race-based traumatic stress presents
with a variety of symptoms that result from the emotional and psychological pain asso-
ciated with racial discrimination (Carter, 2007). As such, racial discrimination involves
an individual’s subjective experiences and perceptions that are not specifically included
in the limited criteria required for a diagnosis of PTSD. In their examination of racist
incident-based trauma, Bryant-Davis and Ocampo (2005) noted that although not all ethnic
minorities who experience racial incidents will present with posttrauma symptoms, many
present with intense fear, anxiety, helplessness, re-experiencing the event, and avoidance
in response to racial incidents. Such symptoms are synonymous to posttraumatic criteria
outlined in the DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Bryant-Davis and Ocampo (2006) posited that despite research that documents the
negative impact of ongoing racism for African Americans (Klonoff, Landrine & Ullman,
1999; Sellers & Shelton, 2003; Utsey, Ponteretto, Reynolds, & Cancelly, 2000; Williams
& Williams-Morris, 2000), barriers that prevent the acknowledgment of racial trauma as
a clinically relevant category persist. These barriers include (a) the current definition of
trauma in the DSM-IV-TR as limited to incidents that are physical in nature (e.g., sexual
abuse or physical assault); (b) the lack of conceptualization of racial incidents as trau-
matic alleviates academics, providers, and society from the responsibility of addressing
the impact of racism; (c) the general belief that expanding the current categorization of
traumatic events will minimize the “status of legitimate victims by diluting the definition
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126 M. M. Jernigan and J. H. Daniel
of trauma (p. 485); (d) the fear of compensation associated with victims’ rights legisla-
tion; and (e) concerns by advocates regarding the inclusion of racial trauma given the
current categorization and conceptualization of typical responses to racial incidents as
“disordered.” Consequently, given the aforementioned barriers, more research is needed
that focuses on racist incidents as forms of trauma rather than stressors leading to negative
mental health and health outcomes (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006).
Racial Awareness
Black children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to racial trauma because they
may not have yet developed a sophisticated cognitive understanding or the affective lan-
guage with which to process the ongoing effects of racism (Helms, 2003; Horowitz &
Horowitz, 1938; Quintana, 1998). As noted in traditional trauma literature (Brom et al.,
2009; Osofsky, 2004; Reviere, 1996; Terr, 1990), the cognitive, affective, and physiological
impact of trauma is often experienced as debilitating for victims.
In their review of the literature on the racial perceptions of young children, Cristol
and Gimbert (2008) examined studies, beginning with those conducted in the 1940s, that
focused on the development of racial prejudice in children. Based on their review of the
literature, they concluded that social learning, as well as the cognitive development of chil-
dren, are essential factors in how children develop racial attitudes. Although the literature
in this area has decreased, early studies of racial attitudes among children remain relevant
some 40 years later. Research studies consistently demonstrate that children exhibit race
bias at early ages, prior to their entry into the school systems (Katz, 1983, 2003). By the
first year of life, children tend to select dolls that resemble their phenotypical characteristics
(Katz, 2003). Beginning at approximately 3 years of age, White children more often choose
same-race friends (Katz, 2003). This trend continued as the age of the children increased,
through 5 to 6 years of age. Katz (2003) stated that school-aged children who demonstrate
higher racial bias more often exist in environments that are racially homogenous during
their early childhood. Alternately, regardless of their environment, children who demon-
strated less racial bias had parents who talked about race during their early childhood and
formative years (Katz, 2003). According to Katz (1973), despite the ambiguity of racial
classifications, in this country individuals are able to identify to which group they belong
by age 3 despite the fact that they may not fully understand the social implications of such
group membership.
Van Ausdale and Feagin’s (2001) analysis of race relations in a racially diverse day
care center serving children from 3 to 6 years of age document a level of awareness of racial
differences and behavior patterns that demonstrate racial discrimination. The authors found
that preschoolers could be overtly racist, targeting other children because their appearances
differed from them. They note that racial and ethnic concepts are an integral part of child
development and they are able to apply them in relationships with other children. By con-
ducting the observations in the child’s world, the researchers were able to see how the
children act and react, positing that young children are sophisticated in how they manage
socially. Two social worlds inform them. The first is one in which children are interacting
with adults where they acquire information including racial and ethnic images and obser-
vations about the adult world. The second is their world of interactions with other children,
where they apply and experiment with what they learn. The latter world is the one that is
least known by adults.
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Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children 127
Van Ausdale and Feagin (2001) noted that children vary in their focus on race and eth-
nicity. African American children, for example, must learn to cope with racially charged
situations for survival, as opposed to experimentation as was the case for primarily White
children. A compelling example of this experimentation is presented at the beginning of
Van Ausdale and Feagin’s book. A 3-year-old White girl moves her cot with the explana-
tion that “I can’t sleep next to a nigger” and continues on to say that “niggers are stinky.”
When confronted by the teacher about using hurting words, she looks amused. The authors
noted her ability to link concepts together as a way to both explain and justify her behav-
ior. This is not just imitation or thoughtless behavior. The term adult-centric is used to
explain children’s behaviors being seen from an adult perspective (i.e., in terms of what
they should do as opposed to that they have actually done). They assert that children can
have a higher knowledge of the social world than most adults believe possible. The book
has numerous examples of behaviors that generally are unseen and unreported in the adult
world. Through their experiences with other children and adults, by age 3 the children are
able to know themselves and others in racial ethnic terms, grounded in a society where
race continues to matter. Skin color (especially the dark-skinned girl) and size (the larger
Black boy) were seen as leading to social isolation. The issue of subordination due to
racial identity was also raised as an issue. It was noted that, although no child of color used
racial epithets to control White children, the same could not be said for the White children.
However, the children of color did fight back when these were used against them.
Black children, other children of color, and biracial children need strategies for coun-
tering the negative stereotypes associated with group memberships. A major task is the
development of a range of “coping and countering strategies” that they will need in a
race-based society. One 31
/2-year-old Black girl had a repertoire of responses that included
“active resistance to passive withdrawal.” In the case of the former, she asserted her Black
identity with pride.
Based on extant research, Cristol and Gimbert (2008) concluded that the development
of interventions designed to challenge negative racial beliefs in children and promote posi-
tive attitudes across racial differences should begin in early childhood. As such, schools
(and more specifically, teachers and administrative staff) play an role integral role in
helping children form or alter social attitudes as young as preschool.
School Environments
American school environments often parallel societal dynamics in the United States with
regard to race (Cokley, 2006; Cole-Taylor, 2003; Langhout, 2005; Nicolas et al., 2008;
Yirenkyi, 2003). Depending on the school environment, Black students may receive mes-
sages regarding their particular racial group, which imply a deficit or strength. Thus, school
environments impact the development of Black students’ almost as much as his or her fam-
ily of origin, particularly during adolescence (Cole-Taylor, 2003; Helms, 2003; Jernigan,
2009; Stevenson, 1994). Consequently, school systems that create environments that alien-
ate students of color can result in disidentification and subsequent disengagement from
school altogether (Osbourne, 1997).
In a qualitative study of African American students, Langhout (2005) examined the
ways in which school environments silence students. Through analysis of personal obser-
vations and interview data, she found that teachers used preconceived negative stereotypes
about students of color and poor students to silence them and to make rules about how stu-
dents should behave (e.g., be silent while walking in a single-file line in the hallway). Based
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128 M. M. Jernigan and J. H. Daniel
on her observations, she contended that because the population of Black low-income stu-
dents was perceived as difficult to manage, the school administration justified an increased
attention to their behavior and subsequent disciplinary actions. Langhout asserted that
students were essentially stripped of their individuality and voice, thus making them “invis-
ible.” Based on observational data, students often resisted the attempts of their teachers
and school system to define who they were or should have been by verbally or emblemati-
cally opposing dominant beliefs, allowing them to create their own self-definition. As such
Langhout encouraged the reevaluation of students’ perceived noncompliance in school
systems as resistance, rather than solely being understood as conduct disordered or oppo-
sitional behavior. Conceptualizing student behavior in this manner provides a gateway into
better understanding the racial power dynamics within schools.
Irvine (1986) focused on examining teacher–student interactions to determine the sig-
nificance of race, sex, or grade level on classroom interactions. Irvine suggests that school
environments, including teachers, have an influence on the socialization of Black stu-
dents, particularly girls. The author found that teachers attended to Black girls less as
they progressed through school by providing fewer opportunities for them to participate
in classroom discussions and giving significantly less academic feedback to Black girls
relative to their peers. This socialization often led to the silencing of Black girls in the aca-
demic setting. A general theme in research that examines the experiences of Black students
in the classroom is that schools attempt to silence them but that Black students respond to
attempts to silence them in different ways. For example, Lips (1999) reported that Black
girls’ outspokenness, an indicator of their assertiveness and engagement in the classroom,
was often subtly discouraged. Teachers typically ignored Black girls’ efforts through their
lack of encouragement, resulting in the girls’ forced invisibility in the academic setting
(Morris, 2007). Consequently, Black girls were less likely than their peers to feel con-
fident about their academic abilities and relationships with school teachers (American
Association of University Women, 1991; Jernigan, 2009; Morris, 2007).
In a mixed method study, Jernigan (2009) used qualitative interviews to examine the
experiences of Black girls in a predominately White school setting on an individual and
systemic level. All participants perceived their school environment as discriminatory for
Black youths in particular. Moreover, Black girls reported an elevated sensitivity to peer
and teacher perceptions of their intellectual ability and value systems (e.g., hard working).
Daniel (2000) spoke to the physical and psychological vulnerability and hypervigilance
that has historically resulted when Black children and adolescents perceived that they were
in a perpetual state danger because of their race. Within the school setting Black children
and adolescents’ competence is challenged and minimized, they face disproportionate lev-
els of negative disciplinary action, and they are subjected to racial bullying. For Black
youths, such overt (e.g., being called a racial slur) and covert (e.g., ignoring the contribu-
tions of Black students in the classroom) experiences of racism in school systems yield
synonymous traumatic psychological responses.
School Climate
Black students’ perception of the school climate plays a critical role in what resources
they develop (Irvine, 1986; Langhout, 2005; Morris, 2007). Wong, Eccles, and Sameroff
(2003) provided evidence regarding the connection between Black adolescents’ school
experiences and academic outcomes. The authors found an increased likelihood of neg-
ative academic and socioemotional outcomes when participants perceived their teachers as
lacking a sense of respect for them based on their ethnic background. Although numerous
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Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children 129
studies (Cabrera, Nora, Terenzini, Pascarella, & Hagedorn 1999; Hurtado & Carter, 1997;
Johnson, 2003; Kotori & Malaney, 2003; Mabokela, 2001; Pewewardy & Bruce, 2004)
have examined the impact of school environments on college students of color, studies of
secondary school climates are minimal. Studies that have examined the impact of the racial
climate on college educational environments for students of color have reported a direct
association between students’ of color perception of the educational setting as racially
negative (e.g., biased, discriminatory) and student engagement and academic development
(Cabrera et al., 1999; Hurtado & Carter, 1997). Mattison and Aber (2007) defined school
racial climate as “those aspects of the broader school climate that reflect how race and per-
ceptions of race matter in schooling” (p. 2). The authors stated that research examining the
racial climate of secondary schools to determine how students’ racial perceptions of the
school setting might impact student adjustment and achievement are rare.
Mattison and Aber (2007) found that Black secondary school students perceived the
racial climate of their schools more negatively than their White counterparts. Their nega-
tive perception of “racial unfairness” was associated with poorer student outcomes (e.g.,
higher levels of suspensions or detentions; p. 9). Additionally, in an examination of factors
that contribute to the academic “achievement gap” between Black students and their White
counterparts, Bainbridge and Lasley (2002) reported findings that support a correlation
between perceived teacher attitudes and behavior and student achievement. Although the
researchers were able to add to the literature regarding the secondary school experiences of
students in their school environments, Mattison and Aber (2007) recommended that future
researchers investigate how student perceptions of racial climate in secondary schools
might affect student engagement and the subsequent impact on the emotional health of
students of color.
Clinical Implications: Case Examples in Context
Racial Microaggressions
Pierce (1974) first coined the term racial microaggressions to describe the subtle ways
in which racism is communicated in everyday settings (e.g., classrooms). In an effort to
expound upon this concept, Sue et al. (2007) introduced a taxonomy of racial microaggres-
sions based on concepts of aversive racism as defined within social psychology literature.
Proposed by Dovidio and Gaertner (1986), aversive racism is a framework used to under-
stand how persons enact prejudice and discrimination in modern day society (i.e., less overt
expressions of racism and discrimination). Black youths face racial barriers as a result of
living in a society that “exposes them to numerous unacknowledged barriers that place
them at risk” (Nicolas et al., 2008, p. 273). According to the authors, racially discrim-
inatory institutional laws and policies, the devaluing of Black youths’ racial and ethnic
culture through media exploitation, and individual racial discrimination are some examples
of barriers to the positive development of Black children and adolescents.
Given the way that racism presents in modern day society (i.e., covert or symbolic)
Black youths are faced with an increased number of racial microaggressions. We use the
taxonomy of microaggressions (e.g., microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations)
to categorize examples of racial trauma from our clinical work as mental health profes-
sionals. In doing so, the ways in which Black children and adolescents encounter racism
and experience racial trauma within the school context, a place that significantly impacts
the socialization Black youths outside of the home, are illustrated.
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130 M. M. Jernigan and J. H. Daniel
Sue et al. (2007) described explicit and purposeful racially derogatory behavior (verbal or
nonverbal), such as using racial slurs or deliberate avoidance, as microassaults. In a society
where people are socialized to be politically correct, microassaults are not as commonly
recognized because they represent the “old fashioned racism” of the past. However, Black
youths have reported instances when the word “nigger” has been found written on walls
in school or Black images have been hung, simulating the lynchings of Blacks that have
occurred (Jernigan, 2009).
Sue et al. (2007) defined a microinsult as a potentially unconscious behavior or ver-
bal remark that is demeaning to a person’s racial heritage. For youths in the school
environment, such remarks can come at the hands of administrators, teachers, or peers.
Additionally, Black children and adolescents that enter school environments that do not
hire staff that visually reflect racial diversity or teach from curricula that does not include
the contributions of people of color face daily microinsults. Black students who are accused
of plagiarism because their instructor believes she or he could not have written such a poem
or piece of prose, followed by a conversation with parents justifying their accusation, are
survivors of microinsults. The instructor clearly holds a belief that this student, given her
or his racial background, is incapable of producing exemplary intellectual contributions.
Microinvalidations are represented by experiences that abate the realities of people of color
(Sue et al., 2007). Black students who inquire about the lack of inclusion of Black figures
when studying U.S. history and are told by teachers that Blacks have not contributed to
American society, experience microinvalidations. The Black girl that is ignored by her
teacher or is consistently called on last when she has her hand up likely begins to feel
invisible in the class as a result of her microinvalidation. Other examples include Black
students who attend schools in predominately White environments and report being fol-
lowed by police or watched closely by White residents when they transition to and from
school. Subsequently, when these students are told they are being too sensitive and/or
overreacting, their experience of racism is invalidated.
The implications of perceived racial and ethnic discrimination, such as those described
previously, are overwhelmingly associated with negative mental health outcomes such
as depression, stress, anxiety, and psychological distress (Coker et al., 2009). The abil-
ity of Black children and adolescents to resist racial discrimination is mitigated by the
beliefs they hold about their own identity as racial and ethnic minorities (e.g., racial iden-
tity; Jernigan, 2009; Nicolas et al., 2008; Sellers & Shelton, 2003). For Black youths,
microaggressions represent insidious forms of racism that have a deleterious impact on
their psychological health. For example, Sellers and Shelton (2003) found that African
Americans that held their identified racial group (i.e., Black) in low regard may have
poorer mental health outcomes when faced with discrimination. Nyborg and Curry (2003)
found that for African American boys, personal experiences with racism were connected
with feelings of hopelessness, lower self-concept, as well as the likelihood of self-reported
internalized symptoms (e.g., withdrawal, somatic complaints, indicators of anxiety and
depression). Given this, the compounding effects of microaggressions over time have
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Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children 131
the potential for particularly negative consequences because of their frequency and often
lack of explicit validation from others. Thus, as Sellers and Shelton (2003) reported,
a positive African American identity was guarded against the negative impact of racial
A Strengths-Based Approach to Assessing and Treating Racial Trauma
in Children
Despite the lack of inclusion of racial trauma in psychological and related literature,
scholars (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2005; Carter, 2007; Helms, Nicolas, & Green, 2010)
continue to push for increased efforts to develop models of racial trauma assessment
and treatment. Appropriate assessment and treatment of racial trauma is incumbent upon
providers’ ability to accurately identify and conceptualize individual, as well as systemic,
racial dynamics. Bryant-Davis and Ocampo (2006) proposed a model for conceptualizing
and treating racial trauma in ethnic minorities. The proposed model outlines the parallels
between general therapeutic trauma assessment and interventions (see Arvidson, 2011, for
research on the treatment of trauma in children, and Olafson, 2011, for research on inter-
ventions for child sexual abuse) while underscoring the differences (e.g., persons are not
randomly targeted; they are targeted because of their race) and complexity (e.g., incidents
often occur within the context of racial stereotypes that increases the likelihood of victim
blaming) of race-based trauma. The authors propose a therapy model for ethnic minorities
that requires counselor competence in the sociopolitical histories of race and racism, as
well as knowledge of racial identity assessment (self and other). In addition, treatment must
occur in a safe and validating environment that allows for a comprehensive assessment of
trauma history. “...a complete trauma history assessment should include the nature of the
incident; the actions taken; the client’s thoughts and feelings about actions taken and not
taken; exposure to prior trauma; coping strategies; personal strengths; psychiatric history;
medical, social, family, and occupational history; and cultural and religious explanatory
beliefs about the trauma” (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006, p. 63).
In addition to the direct experience of racial trauma, when persons bear witness to
acts of racism, it can create a secondary experience of trauma. For children who witness
racism, the impact can be equally distressing. Inherent in the conceptualization of racial
trauma is the deliberate targeting of persons of color because of their racial background.
Consequently, when Black youths observe peers’ experiences of racism, they may begin
to wonder if they will be targeted next. Providers must assess for racial trauma and deter-
mine if clients have witnessed another individual or group of individuals being treated in
a discriminatory manner due to racial or cultural factors. The assessment should include
the individual’s relationship with both the survivor as well as the perpetrator of the inci-
dent (Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006). Knowledge of this information will assist providers
in better understanding and treating resulting increased anxiety, sadness, and feelings of
The ways in which Black children and adolescents come to understand and define
who they are (i.e., identity development) is essential to their ability to survive and thrive in
racially oppressive environments. For Black children, many of the lessons about racism and
strategies for how to resist oppression begin in the home environment (Stevenson, 1994).
Researchers have studied for years how children come to develop racial awareness and
attitudes (Aboud, 1988, 2003; Cristol & Gimbert, 2008; Katz, 1973, 2003). Despite infor-
mation that speaks to continuing trends of racial awareness and prejudice in early childhood
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132 M. M. Jernigan and J. H. Daniel
(Cristol & Gimbert, 2008), few researchers have developed and evaluated intervention
programs designed to address the development of racial bias in children.
Racial Socialization
Thornton, Chatters, Taylor, and Allen (1990) defined socialization as a process in which
parents and families communicate to their children an understanding of values, roles, and
statuses that allow their children to acquire beliefs about the social structure of the larger
society. Thornton et al. stated that parental socialization is unique for parents of color
because they are required to socialize their children to have a positive individual and
group identity within the context of a society that discriminates against people of color.
The process of racial socialization for parents of color is designed to assist their chil-
dren in understanding racial dynamics in society. Thomas and King (2007) defined racial
socialization as the process that Black parents use to foster the development of a positive
self-concept, including racial and ethnic identity, while Black youths exist in a racially
oppressive and sometimes threatening environment.
According to Thornton et al. (1990), racial socialization includes specific messages
and practices that provide information about (a) “personal and group identity; (b) inter-
group and interindividual relationships; and (c) positions in the social hierarchy” (p. 401).
As such, Black youths develop strategies for understanding the experiences of racism and
providing them with resources to acknowledge and resist future discriminatory experi-
ences. Black youths who are socialized about race in ways that facilitate their ability to
develop positive attitudes about who they are, as well as about the culture of their iden-
tified racial and/or ethnic group, are armed with resources to acknowledge and resist
future discriminatory experiences (Jernigan, 2009; Neblett, Phillip, Cogburn, & Sellers,
2006; Stevenson, 1994). As a result, they are more likely to develop positive psychosocial
outcomes (Altschul, Oserman, & Bybee, 2006; Constantine & Blackmon, 2002; Neblett
et al., 2006; Stevenson, Cameron, Herrero-Taylor, & Davis, 2002; Tinsley, Nussbaum,
& Richards, 2007).
Although youths may initially experience the process of racial socialization within
the family context, as they mature, an increase in interactions with general society is
inevitable. In doing so, youths are subjected to indirect racial socialization processes, which
in American society historically are negative for persons of color. Such experiences impact
the internalization of messages about what it may mean to identify with a particular racial
group (Neblett et al., 2006). For parents raising children of color in American society, this
racial socialization fosters the critical awareness and lessons a child needs to cope with
oppressive environments that may denigrate her or his racial and ethnic background.
Racial Identity Development in Black Youths
A fundamental understanding of racial identity is necessary to recognize and treat racial
trauma. Research indicates that how an individual experiences racism is connected with
her or his racial identity development (Carter, 2007; Helms, 1990). This section pro-
vides an in-depth overview of Helms’ (1990) people of color racial identity theory as it
applied to Black youths. In doing so, the authors illustrate how a less sophisticated or more
mature racial identity development can impact Black children and youths’ perceptions and
response to racism.
Helms (1990) posited that an individual’s racial identity is influenced directly and
indirectly through the process of racial socialization. She underscores the notion that racial
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Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children 133
socialization messages that impact the formation of racial identity can come firsthand
from family, as well as through implicit messages communicated by the media, systems,
and institutions where Black children and adolescents interact (Helms, 2003; Hughes,
2003). School systems, for example, communicate racial messages to students through
their overt and covert policies. Arguably, the repeated identification of Black students as
recipients of disciplinary actions, and lack thereof with regard to academic opportunities
when compared to White students, intimates stereotypes present in larger society that sug-
gests Black youths are intellectually inferior and prone to behavioral issues (Cokely, 2006;
Jernigan, 2009). For Black children and adolescents, their racial identity development is
inevitably affected by the manner in which they are treated in schools. Depending on their
socialization experiences, Black youths may possess attitudes that allow them to resist dis-
criminatory influences in the environments that they exist, particularly school where they
spend a large amount of their time outside of the home.
Although numerous theories of racial identity development exist, Helms’ (1984, 1990,
1995b, 2003) adaptation of Cross’s (1992) original stage theory has been frequently uti-
lized to examine the intersection of youths of color, their identity development, and the
dynamics within the environments that they exist. Racial identity researchers have repeat-
edly demonstrated that Black youths that positively identify with their racial and/or ethnic
background fair better when faced in the future with discriminatory experiences (APA Task
Force on Resilience and Strength in Black Children and Adolescents, 2008; Cross, 1992;
Helms, 2003; Phinney, 1996; Sellers & Shelton, 2003).
For persons of color (e.g., Blacks, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and
Latinos), racial identity development theory proposes that traditionally racially marginal-
ized individuals process and work through attitudes and beliefs of internalized racism and
develop an active awareness of racism and oppression. In doing so, they are able to iden-
tify and find coping strategies to resist racism in its many forms (e.g., individual and
systemic) and commit to an elimination of oppression through deliberate ongoing self-
examination and lived experiences (Helms, 1995a, 1995b; Thompson & Carter, 1997). The
people of color model (Helms, 1995b) describes different ego statuses that reflect attitudes,
beliefs, and information processing strategies an individual may utilize to make sense of
racial stimuli. The model includes the conformity, dissonance, immersion-resistance, and
internalization statuses.
Conformity. Conformity is characterized by the individual’s desire not to be defined by
racial terminology (e.g., Black), but rather to be defined by means of general terms, such
as “human being.” Though the Black youth who is using a conformity status attempts
to assimilate into society by utilizing a “color-blind” lens, she or he is aware of racial
disparity but believes such instances exist and can be rectified if people of color (e.g.,
Black people) work harder to make gains. Internalized racism is typical of the Black child
or adolescent who operates from a conformity status to cope with racial dynamics. For
Black youths, conformity might be characterized by self-hatred or own-group denigration
as expressed through pro-White/anti-Black attitudes. Thus, a Black child operating from
the conformity status may idealize and demonstrate a preference for playing with White
dolls. An adolescent who has internalized conformity might believe that Black students do
not perform well in school or on standardized assessments because they are intellectually
inferior to their White counterparts.
The child or adolescent that operates from the conformity status is particularly vulner-
able to negative psychological outcomes as a result of racial trauma given their denial of
race as an important factor in society. Such Black youths may present with symptoms of
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134 M. M. Jernigan and J. H. Daniel
sadness or social withdrawal but may minimize the connections between their current psy-
chological presentation and their experiences negative racial interactions. The onus lies in
the hands of the provider of services for Black children and adolescents who present using
the conformity status to have an accurate understanding and assessment of individual,
systemic, and cultural racism. This allows the provider, following a thorough psychoso-
cial assessment (including racial trauma), to provide psycho-education about the impact
of described racial experiences. The child or adolescent of color may initially resist the
provider’s efforts to educate and provide validation of her or his experience. They are
operating from a lens that is invested in the belief that she or he is no different from her
or his White counterparts. Highlighting the reality that, in fact, race matters, disrupts the
youth’s belief system potentially altering the racial identity profile.
Dissonance. Dissonance represents the child or adolescent’s unwilling capacity to ques-
tion his or her previous belief systems. Self-questioning can sometimes be brought on by
a blatant experience of racism, which shatters the previous belief system. As such, Black
youths’ manner of coping is overpowered by this encounter with reality, leading to feelings
of anxiety and confusion. Black children for whom this status is dominant might exhibit
distress by “acting out” or appearing anxious in the classroom setting because he or she is
ostracized by other students during social play or team-based activities due to his or her
race. Black adolescents may come to the realization that, despite their attempts to assimi-
late to White cultural standards, society views them as inferior because of their perceived
For Black youths who present with dissonance as their dominant racial identity sta-
tus, or begin to operate from this status as a result of the treatment process, providers
should focus on stabilizing symptoms related to anxiety. Subsequently, validation is also
an essential component of working with a child or adolescent operating from the disso-
nance status. The ideal manner to intervene for a child that is unable to make sense of the
role of race in his or her environment (i.e., confusion) is to facilitate the process of under-
standing. In doing so, the provider must ensure that the Black child or adolescent does
not internalize the racial dysfunction in his or her environment as some fault of her or his
own. In an effort to calm anxiety and confusion, the dissonance experience may lead Black
youths to accept their racial identification as a person of color, allowing them to access
information-processing strategies from the immersion-resistance status.
Immersion-Resistance. When a Black child or adolescent is using immersion-resistance
to cope with racial dynamics, he or she immerses himself or herself into things that
he or she feels represent his or her newly accepted racial classification in an effort to
redefine what it means to be from his or her particular racial group. As a result of the
attempt to strengthen own-group identity and overcome internalized societal stereotypes,
the immersion-resistance status can encompass periods of vacillating anger and experi-
mentation with racial definition (e.g., what is and is not Black) in an attempt to create a
new self-defined racial group identity. Black youths, for whom the immersion-resistance
status is dominant, may use rigid and stereotypical examples of racial groups to determine
and create a new identity.
Black children and adolescents in predominantly White school settings demonstrate a
transition from having friends from racial backgrounds different from their own to solely
welcoming close friendships with their peers of their own racial classification, particularly
as they enter adolescence (Jernigan, 2009; Tatum, 1997). In doing so, they report a sense
of connection, through shared racial experiences in their schools, that provides a feeling of
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Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children 135
comfort. However, the ways in which immersion-resistant children and adolescents may
begin to interact with one another may reflect internalized notions of “Blackness,” which
are often adopted from a general societal portrayal of Black persons. Alternately, Black
children or adolescents, in an attempt to create a self-definition, may rebuke stereotypical
definitions of Blacks in society and begin to investigate and adopt an Afrocentric-based
The child or adolescent, for whom the immersion-resistance ego status is dominant,
may present as seemingly hostile toward the majority (e.g., White) culture while develop-
ing a positive attitude about his or her identified racial group. Developmentally, a younger
child operating from this status may present with a less sophisticated understanding of her
or his anger than an adolescent. Because families are influential in Black children’s racial
identity, the child may begin to verbalize or mimic sentiments that are shared by the adults
in her or his environment. For example, a child may communicate negative racial interac-
tions that occur in the school environment to his or her parents. Consequently, the parents
may verbally respond negatively to the described events and have a conversation about how
to intervene at a systemic level. The child who witnesses this may begin to internalize and
take on the experience of anger represented by her or his parents. This demonstration of
anger may be coupled with parroted verbalizations of anti-White sentiment. It is imperative
that providers are able to understand and withstand the child or adolescent’s anger in this
status. Although many child and adolescent clinicians are well versed in conceptualizing
the psychological role of anger, many persons remain uncomfortable with the notion of
anger when it is associated with race and racism. Allowing the Black child or adolescent to
express anger and validating the importance of such anger due to the iniquitous experience
of surviving racist interactions during treatment process is essential. It is also incumbent
on the provider to ensure that the Black child or adolescent does not remain in a perpetual
state of anger that becomes counterproductive to treatment.
The resistance experience is an effort to regain control of one’s self-definition and
function from more self-enhancing developmental state. Langhout’s (2005) study of Black
youths in an academic setting provides several examples of Black students’ attempts to
resist oppression in their school environments through their direct opposition to it (e.g.,
disruptive behavior leading to removal from the classroom) or creative expression (e.g.,
drawings or poems) about their school experiences. Resistance incorporates learning about
the strengths and weaknesses of one’s culture and developing an awareness of what it
means to be from a particular racial group. Providers are encouraged to operate from a
strengths-based perspective and begin to conceptualize what may be interpreted by racist
systems as negative and oppositional behaviors, as attempts to resist discrimination. In
doing so, it is imperative to inform Black youths about differences between what Robinson
and Ward (1991) described as resistance for survival and resistance for liberation as strate-
gies utilized by Black girls in particular to resist racist and sexist socialization. Resistance
for survival represents a “self-denigration due to the internalization of negative self-images,
excessive autonomy and individualism at the expense of connectedness to the collective[,]”
[whereas] resistance for liberation is defined as “resistance in which black girls and women
are encouraged to acknowledge the problems of, and to demand change in, an environ-
ment that oppresses them” (p. 89). Black youths should be encouraged by providers to
find appropriate resources and ways in which to resist racism and potentially minimize the
impact of future racial traumas by empowering them in their environments.
Internalization. As the potential for resisting racism socialization changes, the internal-
ization status manifests as Black youths’ ability to be more internally secure and more
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136 M. M. Jernigan and J. H. Daniel
appreciative of all racial and ethnic groups. The ability to shift between resisting and actu-
alizing perspectives occurs as Black youths gain a sense of racial pride and communalism
(Cross, 1992; Helms, 1995b). Internalization requires the Black youths have the ability
to remain aware of racial inequity, as well as other forms of oppression that impact all
humans. As a result, internalization is represented by an ability to recognize the strengths
and weaknesses of all racial groups, including Whites. Subsequently, meaningful relation-
ships with persons from all racial groups are established with the goal of an engagement
and commitment to eradicate social and political manifestations of racism and oppression.
The ability to operate from the internalization status represents an ideal goal for
Black children and adolescents. Although few research studies have been able to illumi-
nate the experiences and developmental processes of children and adolescents of color,
some researchers (Langhout, 2005, Morris, 2007; Ward, 2007) have provided evidence sug-
gesting that based on their socialization experiences, this population does not likely have
experiences that lead to their ability to develop, access, and utilize information processing
skills present in internalization. Researchers (Jernigan, 2009; Ward & Robinson-Wood,
2006) continue to argue that individual and group interventions that teach resistance and
allow for the positive racial identity development of Black youths are not only plausi-
ble but a requirement to ensure their positive development and protect them the negative
psychological consequences of racial trauma.
The intersection of race and trauma was asserted to be a reality in the initial 1994 review of
Trauma and Recovery (Daniel, 1994) in which race was omitted with the one exception of
when a White woman is raped by a Black man. Being open to African Americans talking
about racial trauma in therapy has been consistently encouraged by psychologists (Bryant-
Davis & Ocampo, 2006; Carter, 2007; Daniel, 2000). Yet, providers’ inability to conducts
assessments and implement interventions to racial trauma remains an issue. The lack of
research and training with respect to race and racism for mental health providers is an
ongoing challenge impacting the effective treatment of Black children and adolescents.
Although the implications of race and racism are most often discussed in relation
to youths of color, for White youths ignoring race as an issue has implications on their
development as well. Systems (e.g., schools) that ascribe racial privilege and power to
White youths by reinforcing societal notions of racial oppression through administrative
practices and policies have a negative impact on the racial identity development of White
children and adolescents as well. As mentioned previously, witnessing racially traumatic
events, overt or covert, can facilitate a secondary traumatic experience (e.g., increased
anxiety, feelings of helplessness and sadness). Additional research is needed in this area
to raise awareness regarding the negative implications of racism for White children and
Despite information that speaks to continuing trends of racial awareness and preju-
dice in early childhood (Cristol & Gimbert, 2008), minimal empirical research focusing
on children and adolescents has occurred. Moreover, due to the scarcity of investigation
in this area, the development and evaluation of intervention programs designed to address
the development of racial bias in children is virtually nonexistent. Racial identity models
are particularly important as future researchers develop applied prevention and interven-
tion programs (Jernigan, 2009). Daniel (2000) discussed the psychological implications
for African American women when providers abstain from acknowledging memories of
racial trauma as an aspect of their therapeutic interventions. She encouraged providers to
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Racial Trauma in the Lives of Black Children 137
be proactive and facilitate the integration of race-related experiences and presenting for
clients of color. Moreover, Daniel’s work helps to underscore the importance of addressing
issues of race and racism for Black youths in childhood. If early intervention and treatment
begin to address and focus on childhood racial trauma, it is likely that Black children and
adolescents will become more equipped to resist racial oppression. As such, Black youths
will become empowered in their attempts to survive racial trauma, potentially leading to
less significant impact when faced with the reoccurrence of racism as adults.
Given the sociopolitical history of race in the United States, youths of color from dif-
fering racial and ethnic backgrounds have similar, although not identical, histories of racial
oppression. As such, recommendations presented in this article are relevant. Researchers
are encouraged to conceptualize and investigate the impact of racial trauma in the lives of
children and adolescents of color from various racial and ethnic backgrounds.
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... Particularly, Black youth living in socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods are differentially affected by trauma; both from intergenerational trauma and present-day traumatic experiences, such as police brutality, racial profiling, anti-Black racism, microaggressions, excessive school suspensions, exposure to community violence, and repeated loss of multiple friends and family members to gun violence (Bryant-Davis et al., 2017;Jernigan & Daniel, 2011;Khenti, 2013;Smith & Patton, 2016). These experiences come together to create trauma for Black youth that may not be congruent with the usual picture of trauma. ...
... For Black men, racism is an invisible thread that is woven intricately through their trauma experiences with police brutality, witnessing and/or losing multiple loved ones to gun violence, racial profiling, microaggressions, high rates of school suspensions, and exposure to community violence. These experiences are highly specific racial traumas rooted in systemic oppression (Bryant-Davis et al., 2017;Jernigan & Daniel, 2011). Racial trauma, also referred to as race-based trauma, is derived from discriminatory events that are directed at racialized people in subtle and continuous ways (Comas-Díaz et al., 2019;Jernigan et al., 2011). ...
... These experiences are highly specific racial traumas rooted in systemic oppression (Bryant-Davis et al., 2017;Jernigan & Daniel, 2011). Racial trauma, also referred to as race-based trauma, is derived from discriminatory events that are directed at racialized people in subtle and continuous ways (Comas-Díaz et al., 2019;Jernigan et al., 2011). Racial trauma, especially experienced by low-income Black males, result in heightened levels of arousal, hypervigilance, and depression; these symptoms are outlined in the DSM-V as diagnostic characteristics of trauma (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013; Andrews et al., 2015;Smith & Patton, 2016). ...
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Multiple and continuous traumatic events experienced by Black men impose altering effects on their identities, and their mentalization and presentation of themselves in society. However, the unique dynamics of the impact of trauma in shaping Black men’s identities are not well understood, because their experiences with trauma are not well documented. This paper is a secondary analysis of the qualitative component of a mixed method study that explored trauma, social support, and resilience among 103 racialized youth survivors of gun violence in Toronto, Canada. The analysis for this paper specifically focused on young Black male participants in the study to understand their disproportional experiences with gun violent trauma. Thematic analysis of their narrative demonstrated three themes: 1) trapped by the trauma of systemic oppression; 2) identity marred by the trauma of systemic oppression; and 3) masculinity shifted by the trauma of systemic oppression. The thematic mapping of themes and subthemes yielded the trauma-altered identity (TAI), a concept coined to represent the intersections of trauma, systemic oppression, masculinity, and the identity of Black male survivors. Using a metaphoric artwork to conceptualise the TAI, we explore its psychosocial impacts and set strategies for deconstructing its influence on Black men. While we acknowledge that trauma experiences may vary among Black males, we recognise that understanding intersections of risks associated with trauma among young Black males presents opportunities for policy discussions, advocacy, and social justice reforms.
... In addition, structural racism, and a lack of cultural sensitivity by service providers often creates barriers to quality mental health care. Such misalignments often expose African American youth to the full brunt of environmental stressors (Brenner et al. 2013;Lee and Crooks 2021;Snowden 2012) that can exacerbate mental health disparities, including depression (Auguste 2022;Auguste et al. 2021;Brown et al. 2006;Freeny et al. 2021), and race-based traumatic stress (Carter 2007;Jernigan and Daniel 2011). Two interrelated barriers contributing to the limited use of specialty care are the prevalent use of alternative coping skills, i.e., S/R (Caldwell et al. 2016), and perceived discrimination (Smith and Nicholson 2022). ...
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Studies suggest religion is a protective factor for risk behaviors, and mental health issues. Therefore, it is essential to investigate the associations among religion, risk behaviors, and their mental health. We used Critical race theory to explore the interplay between race, depression, substance misuse, unprotected sex on mental health, which locates Black youth within overlapping systems of op-pression, highlighting the effects of racism on overall health and well-being. Multiple linear re-gression was used to examine self-reported measures of polydrug use, condom use, belief in God, religious activities, and religiosity on mental health among a sample of Black youth (N=638) living in a large midwestern city. Results indicated polydrug use was significant and positively associated with mental health having, and sex while on drugs. However, believing in God was negatively associated with having sex while on drugs. Studies at the intersection of race, religion, and the lifestyle/behaviors of Black youth cannot dismiss the role of the church or their spiritual lives. De-spite studies suggesting a decrease in religious activities, our findings suggests that belief in God reduces risk behaviors among Black youth. We must continue to use critical theories to critique power and privilege while centering Black youths’ strengths despite structural barriers they face.
... Witnessing such tragic events can be linked to secondary traumas, which can further compound the ongoing racial traumas experienced by Black children and adolescents exposed to racism, particularly individual and systemic racism within their own schools. 13 What is "trauma-informed"? As defined by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), a "trauma-informed" approach is one that occurs at the systems level and involves all key educational stakeholders-from school leaders and educators to school staff-in addressing and responding to children's traumas and possible traumatic stress. ...
When California's students return to school this fall, schools can play a pivotal role in preventing, assessing, and addressing trauma in order to support students' well-being. We summarize the existing evidence base on multi-tiered trauma-informed practices that offer increasingly intensive tiers of support. Although many multi-tiered models of trauma-informed approaches have been implemented in schools, the evidence base demonstrating their wholescale effectiveness is limited. The most compelling evidence comes from approaches within the more intensive tiers. Moreover, most of the recent guidance on addressing trauma comes from expert and practitioner experiences and recommendations, including the novel adaptations that some schools made amid the shift to distance learning. Finally, districts and schools seeking to become trauma informed should consider establishing a coherent systemwide trauma-informed approach, including care for educators themselves.
... Racial trauma refers to dangerous experiences related to threats, prejudices, harm, shame, humiliation, and guilt associated with various types of racial discrimination either of victims directly or through witnesses (Comas-Díaz, 2016;Helms et al., 2010). Experiences related to racial trauma at different stages of life for BIPOC individuals can include microaggressions, inappropriate behaviors that encompass physical and verbal attacks, violence, death threats, being beaten and left for dead by attackers, as well as witnessing racist murders ( Jernigan & Daniel, 2011;Saleem et al., 2020;M. T. Williams, Metzger, et al., 2018). ...
Racial trauma refers to experiences related to threats, prejudices, harm, shame, humiliation, and guilt associated with various types of racial discrimination, either for direct victims or witnesses. In North American, European, and colonial zeitgeist societies, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) experience racial microaggressions and interpersonal, institutional, and systemic racism on a repetitive, constant, inevitable, and cumulative basis. Although complex trauma differs from racial trauma in its origin, the consistency of racist victimization beyond childhood, and the internalized racism associated with it, strong similarities exist. Similar to complex trauma, racial trauma surrounds the victims’ life course and engenders consequences on their physical and mental health, behavior, cognition, relationships with others, self-concept, and social and economic life. There is no way to identify racial trauma other than through a life-course approach that captures the complex nature of individual, collective, historical, and intergenerational experiences of racism experienced by BIPOC communities in Western society. This article presents evidence for complex racial trauma (CoRT), a theoretical framework of CoRT, and guidelines for its assessment and treatment. Avenues for future research, intervention, and training are also presented.
Childhood trauma has been described as a public health crisis, thus calling for solutions at multiple levels and across child-serving contexts. Consistent with ecological systems theory, individual experiences of trauma are nested within wider contexts of influence that can result in collective and systemic experiences of trauma. Given that schools are an important child-serving context, there is need to attend to the ways that schools can contribute to both problems and solutions. In this chapter, we offer a wide focus lens to interventions for students exposed to trauma through a definition of trauma as within and across individual, collective, and systemic levels. We describe how much of the extant literature on school-based trauma intervention has targeted the individual student level, with increased expansion that integrates an ecological perspective to trauma intervention. Trauma-informed schools hold promise as a mechanism for promoting systemic resilience and disrupting systemic trauma. School mental health research and practice must enable trauma-informed schools that are culturally responsive and healing-centered across child, school, and community contexts.
Racism in all its manifestations is violence. This study examines the effect of discrimination-based racial violence in neighborhoods and schools on adolescent psychological and behavioral outcomes, while also testing the moderating influence of civic engagement. Researchers used a cross-sectional survey design to measure neighborhood and school-based racial discrimination, civic engagement, racial identity development, racism-based stress, and aggressive behaviors in a sample of 167 13 - 23 year old adolescents and emerging adults. Participants were recruited through a cluster randomized trial to test the impact of blight remediation in preventing youth violence. Study researchers hypothesized a direct effect of racial discrimination on adolescents’ racism-based stress and aggressive behaviors and a buffering effect of civic engagement on these relationships. Researchers also examined these relationships in participants with higher-than-average racial identity development scores. Multivariate regression models revealed a significant direct effect of both neighborhood and school discrimination on adolescents’ aggressive behaviors. Civic engagement had a positive buffering effect in the relationship between neighborhood discrimination and aggressive behaviors. Similar relationships were observed among adolescents with a high racial identity with stronger effect. Study findings have implications for understanding the behavioral impact of racial violence and investing in civic engagement to mitigate its impact in adolescence and emerging adulthood.
Although research has shown that Black college students in emerging adulthood often encounter challenges adjusting to predominantly white institutions (Chavous, 2005 Chavous, T. (2005). An intergroup contact-theory framework for evaluating racial climate on predominantly White college campuses. American Journal of Community Psychology, 36(4), 239–257.[Crossref], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®] , [Google Scholar]; Guiffrida & Douthit, 2010), there is still much to be learned about the transitional experiences of Black women. Using phenomenological variant of ecological systems theory(PVEST), this study explored the influence of racial socialization and ethnic identity on the coping profiles of Black college women (n = 288) who attended a predominantly white institution (PWI). Latent profile analysis (LPA) identified three coping profiles characterized by support-seeking behaviors within social networks: avoidant, intragroup, and intergroup. There were also significant associations between racial socialization, ethnic identity development, and the coping profiles engaged. Black women with higher scores in cultural pride and ethnic identity searching were more likely to be in the intragroup profile. The findings suggested that on-campus support for Black women is needed as they navigate the challenges associated with race and gender. The implications for higher education were discussed.
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Success in school appears to be related to identification with academics (J. D. Finn, 1989). C. Steele (1992) argued that African Americans' relatively poor academic outcomes are attributable to a system of schooling that causes African Americans to disidentify with academics. Previous studies reported empirical evidence supporting this hypothesis. The goal of this study was to examine data from a nationally representative longitudinal sample of students to determine if (a) African American boys remain disidentified through 12th grade, (b) African American girls disidentify, (c) other disadvantaged minority groups (Hispanics) show evidence of disidentification, and (d) disidentification is global across all academic domains or specific to some content areas. In general, African American boys remained disidentified. No other group examined demonstrated significant disidentification. Identification or disidentification did not appear to vary across content areas.
Recently, social scientists have become increasingly interested in the nature of communications from parents to children regarding ethnicity and race. Termed racial socialization, race‐related messages to children may have important consequences for children's identity development and well‐being. This study examined the frequency and correlates of two dimensions of racial socialization—messages about ethnic pride, history, and heritage (Cultural Socialization) and messages about discrimination and racial bias (Preparation for Bias)—among 273 urban African American, Puerto Rican, and Dominican parents. Parents reported more frequent Cultural Socialization than Preparation for Bias. There were no significant ethnic group differences in the frequency of Cultural Socialization. However, African American parents reported more frequent Preparation for Bias than did Dominican parents who, in turn, reported more frequent messages of this sort than did Puerto Rican parents. Ethnic identity was a stronger predictor of Cultural Socialization among Puerto Rican and Dominican parents than among their African American counterparts. In contrast, perceived discrimination experiences was a stronger predictor of Preparation for Bias among African American and Dominican parents than among Puerto Rican parents. Finally, race‐related phenomenon accounted for more variance in both Cultural Socialization and Preparation for Bias among parents reporting on their behaviors with children 10–17 years old as compared to parents reporting on their behaviors with children 6–9 years old.
Although many researchers have suggested that racial discrimination has a negative impact on Black mental health, there are few empirical investigations of that possibility. The authors examined the relative contributions of racial discrimination, status variables, and ordinary stressors to symptoms among 520 Black adults. Results revealed that racial discrimination contributed significantly to symptoms and accounted for 15% of the variance in total symptoms.
Although standardized measures of prejudice reveal high levels of ethnocentric bias in the preschool years, it may reflect in-group favoritism or out-group prejudice. A measure that partially decouples the two attitudes was given to White children between 4 and 7 years of age to examine the reciprocal relation between and the acquisition and correlates of in-group and out-group attitudes. The two attitudes were reciprocally correlated in 1 sample from a racially homogeneous school but not in a 2nd sample from a mixed-race school. In-group favoritism did not appear until 5 years of age but then reached significant levels; it was strongly related to developing social cognitions. Out-group prejudice was weaker, but its targets suffer from comparison with the high favoritism accorded in-group members.
This study explored the relationship between parental racial socialization messages and area-specific self-esteem (i.e., home, school, and peer self-esteem) among Black American adolescents. The authors found that parental racial socialization messages reflecting pride and knowledge about African American culture were positively associated with Black youths' peer self-estecin. Moreover, racial socialization messages about the relative importance of majority culture (i.e., White) institutions and the values and benefits associated with being involved with these institutions were negatively associated with school self-esteem in Black adolescents. Future research directions are offered.
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