How can young people of color manage racial stressors and heal from trauma?

For many Black youth, contemporary life in the United States involves a regular barrage of racial stressors—from hearing racist comments and slurs to witnessing horrific video footage of police violence against Black men and women, often compounded by seeing those responsible subsequently held unaccountable.

What toll do these experiences take on young people’s mental health? And how can the adults in their lives, especially parents and teachers, address both the impact and the persistence of this type of trauma?

Farzana Saleem is an assistant professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education whose research lies at the intersection of race, culture, and mental health. A clinical-community psychologist by training, she explores the influence of racial stressors on psychological health and well-being, as well as family and community factors that can disrupt the consequences of racial stress and trauma. She teaches courses on African American child and adolescent mental health and has published extensively on ethnic-racial socialization, the process by which children come to understand race and manage experiences of discrimination.

This month Saleem launched an 11-week intervention in four Bay Area schools, designed to help middle and high school students address and heal from racial stress and trauma. She is also the coauthor of Healing Racial Stress Workbook for Black Teens: Skills to Help You Manage Emotions, Resist Racism, and Feel Empowered, scheduled for publication this summer, which includes activities to support youth in processing stressors and making sense of the emotions that arise.

Here, Saleem discusses the impact of racial stress on Black youth, different types of messages that can influence how young people understand and respond to racism, and other strategies for families and communities to help address racial trauma:

What kind of experiences typically characterize racial stressors?

People often think about interpersonal encounters, like being called a racial slur, but stressors can be direct or vicarious. You might overhear someone else being called a racial slur. You might see yourself in a group of folks that are repeatedly being targeted because of racial biases or stereotypes. You might be witnessing the killing of people who look like or share an identity with you. A racial stressor can be a single incident, or it could be the accumulation of multiple incidents over time. It can also be systemic, such as witnessing a lack of justice at the systemic level. All of these experiences can trigger stress and symptoms similar to what we might see in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Read the full article about racial stressors for young people of color by Carrie Spector at Futurity.