The death of black teenager Antwon Rose at the hands of a white police officer has been a catalyst for social activism in Pittsburgh, and might also stir up past trauma for people of color.
Therapist Audra Lee said race-based trauma occurs after someone experiences a distressing or hurtful event due to their ethnicity. Therefore, bad memories might resurface because of circumstances and events surrounding Rose’s death.
“In the body, when you hear a certain stimuli, or a sound, or a specific situation that reminds you of something that you went through at some point in your life that was traumatic, it puts you right back into that space that you were in at that moment of the trauma,” said Lee.
Lee said part of this particular trauma for people of color comes from a sense of hopelessness that yet another person from their community, who looks like them, has been killed.
According to data collected by the Washington Post, 531 people have been killed by police in the U.S. so far in 2018. Ninety-nine of them were black males, and of those, 19 were fleeing the scene on foot, including Antwon Rose.
In addition to deep sadness, Lee said people can experience physiological symptoms like appetite change, stomach issues and nausea. She said people are especially vulnerable if they haven't addressed and processed past trauma. In these cases, symptoms could become worse, turning into panic attacks or severe migraines.
To stay healthy, she said people must prioritize their emotional wellbeing, especially those attending protests.
“When you are in a space where you want to fight and you want to advocate and you want to organize and protest,” she said, “[make] sure that within the fight that you’re not losing yourself.”
Lee recommended regular self-care activities for people dealing with traumatic experiences: staying hydrated, getting good sleep, eating healthy food and sharing feelings in a supportive environment. She emphasized that people of color aren't impotent, weak or irrevocably broken, but resilient.
"[They] can be in certain stressful situations and know how to navigate it with an effortlessness and a grace that I think is really beautiful....really a superpower of strength," she said. "From my personal experience, that's been a guiding force."