By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Racism = Prejudice + Power.
And the trauma of racism and its impacts on health and society are long-term and potentially grave.
“It’s all about just being open and willing to understand all our roles…to lean into it and educate ourselves,” Dr. Christine Crawford said.
Crawford, a Boston University professor and an adult and child psychologist, spoke to those attending the online presentation Tuesday on the “Impact of Racism and Trauma on Black Mental Health.” It was presented by NAMI New Hampshire.
Crawford serves as associate medical director for the national NAMI organization.
A link to the presentation, through Onward NH, is here https://www.onwardnh.org/edu.
Crawford said when kids go into a toy store and find no black dolls, or see on TV more blacks being arrested than whites they internalize it and begin to believe they are not as worthy as others.
Traumatic events can also have lots of long-lasting impacts throughout life and could lead to negative health outcomes, overall.
“Racism affects everyone,” said Michelle Wagner, community educator for NAMI New Hampshire.
She said the talk by Crawford, a woman of color, helps in understanding the impacts of racism on society.
There are bodily reactions, and physical damage which can make a person’s immune system weaken or make a person more likely to choose suicide or substances, Crawford said.
“Communities of color were significantly and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” and access to care, she said.
Crawford said during the Black Lives Matter social awakening and unrest, she suffered a lack of sleep during that time.
She called that “vicarious racism” when you identify with bad things that are happening.
“What I tell people is being black in America is similar to walking around in a sticky suit, where all these stressful life events will stick to you,” Crawford said.
“Being suspended from school early on, being pulled over by police for no reason…it is hard to shake that off and it can hold you down, physically and emotionally,” she said.
“We also know that racism is a form of adversity and we know that kids who have been exposed to prolonged adversity are known to have significant negative health outcomes in adulthood,” Crawford said.
Racism can lead to various risk behaviors, and unfortunately early death. “So this matters,” she said. “We are altering the brain structure of young children.”
Kids impacted might present with increased bed wetting, more irritability, being more clingy, having learning disabilities, and may be thought to have ADHD, “and it is hard for teachers ….to know exactly what is contributing to these situations.”
Addressing root causes can be beneficial and just talking about racism can also be helpful.
“What we all can do is consider there is a collective responsibility,” she said. “Talk about this. By ignoring it we are just contributing to the problem.”
Talk, she noted, can provide good modeling for children as well.
“By just sharing emotional responses and talking about how it felt emotionally and discussing effective coping strategies,” are important. “We really need to start talking about this,” Crawford said.