Can racism cause PTSD?
In short, yes. When traumatization is due to experiences of racism, it is sometimes called racial trauma. Those who experience racial trauma may go on to develop PTSD, but many will experience trauma symptoms without receiving an official diagnosis. There are many similarities between racial trauma and PTSD, including hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, paranoia, and body sensations such as headaches and heart palpitations. While PTSD is usually caused by a single traumatic event, racial trauma includes ongoing injuries. It is common for retraumatization to occur to people who experience racial trauma because of constant exposure to microaggressions, direct racism, and racist events from the news, friends, and family, otherwise known as “vicarious traumatization”.
People can experience racial trauma from vicarious traumatization without personally experiencing a life-threatening event. Even if the event does not occur to you directly, being bombarded with news about experiences that could have occurred to you can cause trauma symptoms.
What are microaggressions?
Microaggressions can include brief remarks, vague insults, or non-verbal exchanges. These experiences can become so common to BIPOC and particularly black people that it can be difficult to manage the volume of attacks, which can lead to fear, hypervigilance, and paranoia. Microaggressions can contribute and worsen the effects of PTSD if a stressful event occurs later. People who experience microaggressions have a higher likelihood of developing PTSD after a traumatic event.