Racism can cause Trauma

When I was in secondary school (aged 12 and up) in England I was racially abused. For me, it was easier to count the days when I wasn’t targeted, than the days when I was.

I went through life in stages. I hated myself, I hated my colour, wanting at times to be white and at other times to be darker than I was. I was a child that didn’t belong in British society. Surrounded in a white community that ignored, to the point of  acceptance, the racist chants of the National Front.

I was lost. I looked Asian (South Asian), but I wasn’t. I was black, yet the few black people I saw and met, although polite to me, did not see themselves in me. There were no mixed race (or half-caste as they were called in those days) people around where I lived, so I was an anomaly.

I know, based upon the hatred I had for myself that I suffered trauma from the relentless abuse, attacks and ridicules I faced at school.

If you haven’t seen schoolteacher Jane Elliott’s ‘Blue eyes, Brown eyes’ classroom experiment, I urge you to watch it. https://youtu.be/1mcCLm_LwpE

It shows how racism can impact your learning and your feelings about yourself and society, and she managed to achieve this in just one day of students being discriminated against. And in her video it wasn’t even just one person being singled out for discrimination, it was half the class, yet it impacted them severely.

Now, imagine me, the “unbelonging” in an English school with very few ethnics and a society that saw nothing wrong with white people discriminating against a young black (or whatever I was classed as) children.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, getting beaten up in class while the teacher continues the lesson, being beaten up on the bus and then being the one who was asked to get off it, dreading what every day would bring me.

Yes, racism causes trauma, but trauma was never acknowledged in our race.

Black people, for whatever reason, refused to see trauma as a thing. I never heard of people of colour asking about seeing psychologists. I’m sure there were those who did, but when I was younger it was rumoured that the police,  when they have charges to bring against you, would take you to a mental institution and pump you full of drugs and that’s where you would stay for the remainder of your life. This perception surrounded the very idea of seeking help for mental health struggles, perpectuated with stigma and fear, would push black people into silence.

If that was or wasn’t true, I was never going to find out, so I avoided fighting back against racists,  I avoided acknowledging I was suffering, masking it with a smile on my face. I grew proficient at wearing that mask, of walking around with a smile on my face and for following the rules.

Still, I didn’t float under the radar and the racism continued. As I got older, it became less, but still hurt the same and sometimes even more.

Did I think about taking my own life? I did a few times, but I was never going to be able to hurt my mum and brother by doing so. Yet those thoughts still floated around in my brain waiting for me to grab ahold of them.

Today is different. For one, it’s now illegal to be racist and that can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing, which I’ll explain in another blog.

But now I look back on my life and I wish there was some sort of acceptability to seeking help, that there were people (psychologists) out there that were able to see racism as a form of chronic trauma. Thankfully, there are now.

I suffered heavily at school, but I know that if I had suffered even a couple of my experiences it would have had a detrimental impact on me and my well being.

Don’t wait until your trauma dictates your life. Seek help. Racism can cause trauma.

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