Brother Be Well Wellness for Boys and Men of Color

Racism is a public health
crisis/ ACEs contributor

Scores of males of color have endured Race-Based Traumatic Stress (RBTS) resulting in high levels of anxiety, trauma, and a lower sense of self-worth fueling depression and suicidal ideation.

Take some time to learn about your roots and embrace your culture.

Direct Traumatic Stressors

Direct traumatic stressors include the impacts of living within a society of structural racism or being on the receiving end of individual racist attacks. For example, a person experiencing a direct traumatic stressor may face barriers to employment or home ownership due to inequitable practices or policies.

Additionally, a person experiencing a direct traumatic stressor may be the victim of individual physical and verbal attacks, or may face other microaggressions.



Racial trauma, or Race-Based Traumatic Stress (RBTS), refers to the mental and emotional injury caused by encounters with racial bias and ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes. Any individual that has experienced an emotionally painful, sudden, and uncontrollable racist encounter is at risk of suffering from a Race-Based Traumatic Stress injury. In the U.S., Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) are most vulnerable due to living under a system of historial racism.

Experiences of race-based discrimination can have detrimental psychological impacts on individuals and their larger communities. In some individuals, prolonged incidents of racism can lead to symptoms like those experienced with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This can look like depression, anger, recurring thoughts of the event, physical reactions (i.e., headaches, chest pains, insomnia), hypervigilance, low-self-esteem, and mentally distancing from the traumatic events. Some or all of these symptoms may be present in someone with RBTS, and symptoms can look different across cultural groups. It is important to note that unlike PTSD, RBTS is not considered a mental health disorder. RBTS is a mental injury that can occur as the result of living within a racist system or experiencing racist events.

Racialized trauma can come directly from other people or can be experienced within a wider system. It can happen as the result of a direct experience where racism is enacted vicariously, such as when we see videos of other people facing racism, and/or it can be transmitted intergenerationally.

Examples of Transmitted Stressors

Transmitted traumatic stressors refer to the traumatic stressors that are transferred from one generation to the next. These stressors can come from historically racist sources or may be personal traumas passed down through families and communities.

The historical enslavement of Africans in the U.S. continues to serve as a source of traumatic stress for African-Americans today. In fact, this sustained collective trauma causes African Americans to be highly vulnerable to developing mental health disorders.

Historical trauma shared by Native Americans including boarding schools, massacres, and forced violent removal from their tribal lands represents a severe communal loss and source of traumatic stress. Native Americans continue to experience symptoms of depression, substance dependence, and anxiety due to the psychological impact of trauma.

Vicarious Traumatic Stressors

Vicarious traumatic stressors are the indirect traumatic impacts of living with systemic racism and individual racist actions. Vicarious traumatic stressors can have an equally detrimental impact on BIPOC’s mental health as direct traumatic stressors.

For example, when individuals of color are exposed to mass and social media images of race-based brutality, such as the murder of George Floyd or racism toward the Latinx community, traumatic stress reactions can occur.

Of Latinx youth that immigrate to the U.S., two-thirds report experiencing at least one traumatic event. The most common reported during and post migration is witnessing a violent event or physical assault. Many Native American children are vicariously traumatized by the high rates of societal homicide, suicide, and unintentional injury experienced in these communities.

Examples of Systemic Racism

Blacks/ African-Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population but represent approximately 33 percent of the total prison population. This overrepresentation reflects racism in the criminal justice system. Previous and current policies of racial displacement, exclusion, and segregation have left BIPOC less likely than whites to own their homes regardless of levels of education, income, location, marital status, and age.

The erasure of Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) in the Asian or Pacific Islander category by U.S. Census data severely restricts access to opportunities in these communities by concealing the unique barriers faced by APIs that are not faced by East or South Asian communities.

Lack of cultural competency training in therapuetic settings along with geographical isolation have created barriers in providing appropriate mental health resources in Native American communities. Rates of suicide in these communities is 3.5x higher than racial/ ethnic groups with the lowest rates of suicide, therefore requiring culturally-appropriate interventions.

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