Emily Izzo, U of U Health.
Responding with Kindness: Racial and Minority Trauma
Rising racist aggressions against the backdrop of an anxious and unnerving year can exacerbate the trauma racial groups and minorities experience. Megan Call of the Resiliency Center, social worker Jean Whitlock and EDI expert Mauricio Laguan explain racial trauma and how kindness, to ourselves and each other, is what this moment demands.

lthough more people than ever are now active in anti-racist work, “minority” groups have dealt with racism/sexism/homophobia/trans antagonism/ableism for a long time. The current climate isn’t new. Yet, the word minority may be a misnomer. Many racial and ethnic groups, now considered a minority in the United States, will eventually become the majority.

Even so, these groups and individuals lead out on change. BIPOC walk with inherited and current antagonisms while nurturing their families, guiding communities, and making monumental contributions to common culture. We hope this article raises awareness of the profound resilience of groups who face structural disadvantages intended to oppress.   

What is racial and minority trauma?

Racial trauma is individual or collective psychological distress that can stem from racism, oppression, and other discriminatory laws and policies. This trauma can extend to other minority groups including women, LGBTQ+, and ethnic groups.

Major societal events that bring up past experiences of discrimination and oppression can aggravate racial trauma and present as insomnia, panic attacks, fatigue, reactivity, reduced concentration, and worsening symptoms of PTSD. This stress is in addition to the general anxiety that many people are feeling during these times.

Racist aggression on the rise

Just one month into stay-at-home orders earlier this year there were nearly 1,500 reported incidents of anti-Asian racism (including both verbal and physical attacks). In a 2018 Pew Research study, it was reported that 38 percent of Latinx people were verbally attacked for speaking Spanish in public. And in a more systematic form of oppression, Black people, who make up 12 percent of the nation’s population, make up 33 percent of the total prison population.

And then there are events like political figures feeding anti-Asian sentiment due to the novel coronavirus; family separation at the Mexico-US border; and, multiple instances of police brutality and sentencing disparities by race. Regressive policies and discrimination can similarly be found facing LGBTQ+ and women.

This year has been difficult for everyone. For underrepresented communities, there is an additional layer of stress and trauma. Paying attention to the traumatic experiences endured by our underrepresented colleagues helps us practice kindness, compassion, and empathy with one another.

Be kind to yourself and each other

For BIPOC, and others underrepresented in places of power, beginning a practice of compassion with yourself can be healing. Trinh Mai suggests taking a moment to breathe, acknowledging our shared humanity, and treating yourself like a good friend would.

Responding to each other with kindness is essential. In times when people of color or otherwise underrepresented might feel increased racial or minority trauma, consider an extra pause. Our words are an offering. Let them be kind.



You’re right: racism/homophobia/sexism/etc. is real.


It’s heavy to feel this right now.

It’ll all be okay.

That sounds really tough.

Both sides are at fault.

That sounds frustrating/sad/scary.

It’s not that big of a deal.

You’re really worried.

It’s just politics.

You’re wondering what’s going to happen.

You shouldn’t feel that way.

I can tell how much this is impacting you.

I don’t know why you’re so upset?

Are you ok?

You should think more positively.

What are you doing to take care of yourself?

Unsolicited advice.

Sexton, B. (2020). Psychological safety: The predictive power of feeling supported when things go wrong [Webinar]. Duke Center for Healthcare Safety and Quality.

Orignally published October 2020


Mauricio "Mo" Laguan

Former Manager, Recruitment & Retention, Office for Health Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, University of Utah Health

Megan Jean Whitlock

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Good Talk Therapy

Megan Call

Licensed psychologist, Director of the Resiliency Center, University of Utah Health

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