Is racism traumatizing like bullying? Looks like yes.
Think about it. There are a lot of parallels.
Being bullied by your peers is traumatizing.
Bullied children are more likely to have depression, anxiety, substance use problems, or self-harm. It breaks down self-esteem and puts the child on constant alert because the acts of aggression repeatedly occur.
Bullying is more than just being thrown against the lockers or stuffed in a trash can.
Social isolation, name-calling, taunting, and online nastiness may not be as stark, but they're still damaging. Over time, it gets inside a person and tears them down. When bullying is a part of everyday life, it's hard to look in the mirror and feel good about what you see. You're bombarded with negative feedback about who you are. It's especially difficult when it's based on a fundamental part of yourself that you can't (and shouldn't) change.
Racism is similarly traumatizing and similarly complex.
Racism breaks down self-esteem the same way: by reinforcing the idea that there is something wrong with you. Sometimes the attacks are big. Sometimes they're small. But they're always damaging.
A child who is often picked on when riding the school bus may develop anxiety before those yellow doors open. Similarly, a person who is often followed in stores may develop anxiety before going shopping.
In Australia, indigenous peoples are often subject to racist treatment.
The British colonized Australia in the late-1700s and displaced the aboriginal people who lived in and around it. Ever since, they have fought for equality in a land that was once their own. Even though overtly discriminatory laws have been repealed, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI) still experience day-to-day racism from their fellow Australians.
It hurts them.
In this video by beyondblue, five ATSI people talk about how racism affects their emotional well-being.
"I think later on, if it happens to you a few times, it has a massive effect on you." — Basil
It's not imaginary. Researchers are seeing that consistent discrimination — even consistent worry about discrimination — can cause harm.
The worry of encountering racism causes stress to build up. Sometimes that stress can manifest in diagnosable mental disorders like generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD.
Think about it: When soldiers spend extended time on the battlefield, stress can build up even if they never engage the enemy. Just the constant pressure of being in danger can cause lasting mental damage. Facing consistent discrimination can do the same thing.
We used to say that bullying was just kids being kids. We know better now.
We know that it's harmful. We know that everyone has a hand in stopping bullying behavior. We're coming together to make childhood healthier for all kids.
We used to say that discrimination was normal. We know better now. Let's do better too.