Racial trauma is defined as the trauma experienced as a result of continuous discrimination and violence towards one’s ethnic or racial group.
Racial microaggressions, nativism, oppressive white institutions, ethno-centrism, etc. can all cause racial trauma.
While racism and ethnocentrism affect the Latinx community in different ways, there are certainly some commonalities among the Latinx experience.
Racial trauma in undocumented immigrants
Anxiety from racial trauma is common for undocumented immigrants in the Latinx community. They are more likely to generally feel unsafe and not secure. Not only that, but immigrants with a darker complexion and more ethnic features feel an even higher level of unsafety than lighter-skinned and “white-passing” Latinxs. This of course is not to say that lighter-skin Latinxs don’t experience trauma. However, when undocumented immigrants don’t “fit” into the euro-centric box, they can feel more targeted.
This sense of unsafety also stems from the oppressions that led Latinx immigrants to flee their home country in the first place, only to find that sometimes their threats to safety may increase in America. Latinx immigrants tend to have a heightened experience of racial oppression in America.
Latina immigrants also have to experience sexism from patriarchal structures on top of their racial trauma. For example, Latina survivors of domestic violence may hesitate to come forward about their experience with domestic violence due to fears of deportation and safety.
Even though racial trauma negatively impacts first-generation immigrants, second-generation Latinxs tend to indirectly inherit their families’ racial trauma too. In fact, the tight-knit familial culture in Latinx homes can increase the likelihood of indirect trauma.
Second-hand racial trauma is passed down both socially and genetically. For example, children may learn their parents’ unhealthy coping mechanisms that developed from their racial trauma. Oftentimes, parents can also genetically transmit their anxiety from racial trauma onto their children.
Specifically, parents with lower cortisol levels, due to trauma, pass their stress onto their children. Lower cortisol levels can “compromise the stress response” among people with PTSD. So if someone is pregnant while experiencing low cortisol levels, those low levels can be passed onto their newborns.
On top of the lack of safety and inherited trauma, microaggressions can affect all Latinx’s on a day-to-day basis. Microaggressions are especially common in predominantly white spaces, such as in higher education. In my own experience, I haven’t always been safe in the predominately white institution that I attend. I’ve definitely developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms because of this (which I’ve tried to work against), but sometimes it is simply out of a means of survival.
People like me go through a similar process every day. It gets tiring. Especially when life obstacles occur due to forms of racial oppression.
So why should feminists care?
Feminist Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza coined the term “Kyriarchy.” Kyriarchy expands on the definition of intersectionality and explains how the varying systems of oppression interlink.
Similar to the theory of intersectionality, Kyriarchy understands how women face gendered oppression as well as other forms of oppression. For example, on top of sexism, women of color will also face racial oppression, trans women will also face transphobia, etc. However, Kyriarchy “acknowledges that one can both benefit from and be oppressed by the system.”
This means that someone can be oppressed in one way, but at the same time, be a beneficiary of other systems of oppression. For example, a white woman may benefit from her white privilege but still face sexism.
All of our identities shape our perspective in the world. And the way we interact with others around us also affects the communities we live in.
As activist Audre Lorde theorizes, because of our interconnectedness, it is our duty to fight off all forms of oppression. To do this we can learn to be anti-racist as well as unlearn other forms of oppression such as sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc.
Latinx people and their fellow community deserve to feel safe. Due to these varying systems of oppression, racial trauma can be experienced on top of many other traumas. Feminists must care for each other and unlearn racism as one of many steps against the fight to become an anti-racist and non-patriarchial society.
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