Racism is not just overt acts of prejudice, bigotry, and hate. It is the systemic oppression of people based on ethnicity or skin color through a culture’s power structures, social institutions, and customs. Racism can be explicitly stated in a society’s laws, but it is also implicitly enforced in the stories it tells about itself and its history: which people can be beautiful, smart, and brave, and which are dangerous, dirty, or lazy. Everyday people unknowingly perpetuate racism through microaggressions: small, subtle, and socially learned behaviors like assuming someone of a different ethnicity was born in another country or viewing certain natural hair types as “dirty” or “unprofessional.” We can unintentionally inflict harm on others by not examining the assumptions we learn from growing up in a biased culture, but understanding how racism perpetuates itself is the first step in working toward healing its harm.
One major factor in understanding PTSD in ethnoracial minorities is the impact of racism on emotional and psychological well-being. Racism continues to be a daily part of American culture, and racial barriers have an overwhelming impact on the oppressed.
The term “microaggression” was originally coined by African American psychiatrist Chester Pierce (1970) over fifty years ago, in response to daily indignities he experienced from White people, including his own students and colleagues.