Trauma & Dissociation in the News

A Beginner’s Guide to Anti-Racism Action and Education: A View from Chicago, USA

I have been watching events unfold surrounding the George Floyd protests against racial discrimination and police brutality from my home in Chicago, a city with a long history of racism. This history includes segregationist housing policies that vastly contributed to the racial and ethnic wealth gap as well as the health and educational disparities. It includes the Chicago Police Department use of torture against mostly Black people from the 1970s to the 1990s and the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald. It also includes events unfolding in the present moment, with law enforcement using chemical irritants or violence to disperse protesters, even when being peaceful. Of course, these examples are not unique to Chicago and cities across the globe are battling with the devastating impacts of racism and systemic oppression. In the U.S., protests are focused on the experiences of Black people and the legacy the transatlantic slave trade has had across our systems and institutions.

During the American Psychological Association’s Town Hall on June 4th, the president, Dr. Sandra Shullman, said that “we need to look at ourselves as an organization and at psychology as a whole – both as a discipline and a profession to eliminate the racism in our own house.” This is a call to action that ISSTD leadership is keen to continue to act on, with short-term and long-term strategies being developed to address the systemic forms of oppression contributing to ongoing traumatization of marginalized people. As a community dedicated to reducing the prevalence and consequences of chronic trauma, it is imperative that we take action to fight against racial injustice within our society, our community, and our world.

Over the past week or so, I have increasingly been having discussions with other mostly White friends, family, and colleagues about racism and what is required of those who want to fight against it. There are a couple of questions that seem to repeatedly come up in these discussions: Where do I begin and how can I do more?. In just the past seven days, I have read more articles on what it means to be a White ally to the Black community than I have seen in the past decade. My hope with this article is to share some of these resources with the ISSTD community, especially those of us with White privilege, so that we can ramp up our efforts to dismantle the system of oppression that targets Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples. Please note that these resources are drawn from and focused on experiences within the U.S. sociocultural context and may be less relevant to those living in other parts of the world.  

  • Understand what White privilege looks like in your life. One activity from Peggy McIntosh is Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
  • Read about racial trauma and historical trauma. Dr. Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, has a list recommended articles
  • Check out the Special Issue in the American Psychologist on Racial Trauma: Theory, Research, and Healing 
  • Form a Special Interest Group dedicated to historical, cultural, and/or racial trauma
  • Create a poster or a presentation for an upcoming ISSTD conference that focuses on racial trauma 
  • Share anti-racist resources on the ISSTD World Member Forum and in your social networks
  • Start an anti-racist book club. Some ideas are How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, and So You Want to Talk about Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Include race, ethnicity and other sociocultural factors in your case conceptualizations – Pamela Hayes 2008 ADDRESSING framework is a great place to start
  • Hold other white colleagues accountable when they make racist or biased statements. Need ideas of how to do this? Check out this article
  • Research ways to eliminate racism and address racial disparities. Enrique Neblett Jr. wrote a 2019 article detailing challenges and future directions for research into racism
  • Talk with clients about the impact of race/ethnicity, be aware of your own racial identity, and be open to receiving feedback
  • Write to policy makers and engage with non-mental health professionals about the psychological impact of discrimination. Consider writing a collective letter with multiple signatories as they can have more weight.
  • Learn how to become a stronger ally for the Black community – here is one resource 
  • Support the Association of Black Psychologists

This list is far from exhaustive, but if you did everything on the list you would become exhausted! It is important that we take direct action and ask ourselves how we can do more to support the rights of Black people and other marginalized groups. It is also important that we treat ourselves with dignity and recognize the very human need for rest and rejuvenation. The fastest way to revert to old habits is burnout. When you are tired, allow yourself to rest and come back tomorrow. Take social media breaks, eat a well-balanced meal, spend time with your loved ones, and please, please, please –  get some sleep. 

This article is written from a White, American perspective and is focused on providing resources for others who are from a similar sociocultural background. Across the globe, issues of racism, colonialism, and other forms of systemic prejudice are prevalent and may bear some similarities to issues within the U.S. while simultaneously being distinct. Each country has their own unique history and legacy with issues relating to race and privilege, all of which are worthy of examination but are outside the scope of this brief article. I would encourage people to seek resources related to the issues present in their home countries and with the populations they work with.