Healing From Racial Trauma

A White South African was asked to comment on what they thought about FW De Klerk’s hollow apology for apartheid. De Klerk was an apartheid president whose complex reign included never taking personal responsibility for his role in the death and maiming of millions of South Africans. Even on his deathbed, he refused to admit that apartheid was a crime against humanity. The White South African responded to the question by stating: “I have no comment because I was not affected by apartheid’s racism.” 

I hear this refrain often from White folks all over the world who believe that fighting racism is someone else’s problem. But is this true? If racism permeates our lives, how are we all not affected by it?

Through a trauma-informed lens, it is clear that the system of racism dehumanizes all of us in different ways. In the conversation with the White person who had no comment, I could have shared a story about how my White parents are still traumatized by their experiences of being conscripted into the apartheid army and bureaucracy which was designed to fight and kill to protect the racist system. The war is over, but the scars remain and echo into my life. Unless I heal, the trauma will be passed into the lives of my children.

Understanding how racism, and its violence inflicts trauma on our bodies in the present, helps us heal before it is passed intergenerationally into the future. 

The work of Resmaa Manekem and Bessel Van Der Kolk has been immensely helpful in practicing anti-racism from the perspective of the body, the heart and the soul. Learn more about their work below.


Resmaa Menakem examines the damage caused by racism in America from the perspective of trauma and body-centered psychology.

The book stresses an understanding of the HIPP theory of racialized trauma (historical, inter-generational, persistent institutional, personal) for Black, White and Police Officer bodies.

Each chapter has a set of activities that help the reader to connect their present experiences with their past traumas.


Bessel Van Der Kolk’s work and research centers on the idea that unhealed trauma lives in the body.

Exposure to abuse and violence fosters the development of a hyperactive alarm system and molds a body that gets stuck in fight/flight, and freeze. 

Trauma interferes with the brain circuits that involve focusing, flexibility, and being able to stay in emotional control. A constant sense of danger and helplessness promotes the continuous secretion of stress hormones, which wreaks havoc with the immune system and the functioning of the body’s organs.


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