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Trauma-Informed Perspectives on Critical Race Theory

In February, we will celebrate Black History Month–but celebrating shouldn’t be the only thing we do, and February shouldn’t be the only time we think about Blackness in America.


Martin Luther King Jr. Day recently passed, and Black History Month is quickly approaching. During this season, our focus is often centered on celebrating Black history. While we should celebrate the liberation of Black folks, we also must recognize the conditions required for that liberation to happen—and the continued negative impacts of those conditions on Black people in America.



Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. He was shot at his hotel, where he was preparing to attend a march the following day to fight for just wages for sanitation workers. Advocating for marginalized people led to his death.


MLK brought injustice to light and proudly spoke of change. He advocated for Black rights. He challenged capitalism. And he died for his cause. Not because his cause was innately dangerous but because there were people vigorously opposed to his ideals of equity in America.


The same inequalities Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of in the fifties and sixties exist today, and there are still large groups of people who benefit from racism in America. While we can and should celebrate Black history, we must also acknowledge that systemic racism continues to be an oppressive force that won’t go away on its own.


The legacy of slavery in America

The legacy of slavery is a long-lasting one in America. If you think that slavery is a “thing of the past,” consider this. Historians mark the beginning of slavery in colonial America in 1619, and slavery was legally abolished in 1865. Slavery lasted for 246 years, while Black people have been “free” for 158 years.


That means America has enslaved Black people longer than it has recognized them as people (and not property). If you’re not Black and you’re horrified by these numbers, consider for a moment what it might feel like to have slavery be your history.


Immigrants also possess a history of severe discrimination in America, but the Black experience in America is uniquely troubling.


Even when we don’t acknowledge history, it affects us, and America’s legacy of slavery continues. It operates loudly in America’s overarching value systems and quietly poisons our personal belief systems. It exists in our offices, our schools, and our institutions—and no one in America is immune to it.


We cannot deny the impacts of systemic racism in America. When you look at the numbers, the disparity is undeniable.


  • White people own 98% of all rural land in America (US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service).

  • White Americans make 24% more income than Black Americans (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

  • Black men are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than White men (US Department of Justice).

  • Black women are 3-4 times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women (National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine).


What is critical race theory?

The dictionary definition of critical race theory is this:


“Critical race theory is a set of ideas holding that racial bias is inherent in many parts of western society, especially in its legal and social institutions, on the basis of their having been primarily designed for and implemented by white people.”


To summarize, CRT encompasses all the ideas, facts, and first-hand accounts that reveal all the ways in which the world we live in was built for white people. Critical race theory enables us to have meaningful and impactful conversations about identity, understand more about how we and others walk through the world, and unpack harmful ideas that we may not have even realized we carried with us.


When we look at CRT from a trauma-informed approach, we must also recognize intersectionality. Intersectionality is the idea that our identities intersect, and this intersection of identities impacts how the world perceives and treats us.


For example, an intersectional approach to critical race theory also explores how transphobia and misogyny impact Black people.


What do slavery and race have to do with trauma-informed care?

If you’re active in the trauma-informed care space, you can probably answer this question without my help. But, if you’re new to trauma-informed care, the link between systemic racism and trauma-informed topics like mindfulness and resilience might seem weak.


The thing is, you cannot be trauma-informed if you are not culturally, ethnically, and racially sensitive and aware.


Cultural competency and historical trauma are key concepts in the trauma-informed model because structural violence is a major source of collective trauma (if you’re not familiar with the term structural violence, you can think of the “isms” and “phobias,” such as racism, sexism, ableism, colorism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia, etc.).


This is the message I need trauma-informed leaders to hear: All year long, we must acknowledge the traumatic experiences that Black communities and Black individuals have faced and continue to face.



Using the “yes, and” approach, we need to take it a step further by saying, “YES, I acknowledge historical trauma, AND here’s what I’m doing to unlearn my implicit bias and ensure safety for all.”


Every trauma-informed leader must support CRT

Every trauma-informed leader acknowledges historical race trauma. If they don’t, they are not a trauma-informed leader. Race trauma is a key portion of SAMHSA’s trauma-informed values, which they call “Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues.”


To deny critical race theory is to deny a very real historical trauma for over 41 million people in America.


We cannot create socially just communities without critical race theory.


If you understand the necessity of trauma-informed care in American institutions especially, then you can see why the ongoing debate over CRT in schools is so serious. Nearly 40 US states are enacting measures to ban CRT in schools, and this is a mistake.


Ignoring racism in America won’t make it go away, it will only create a ripe environment for ignorance, resentment, and trauma.


Final Thoughts: CRT is non-negotiable for trauma-informed professionals

If you’re interested in learning more about the trauma-informed model and becoming a trauma-informed professional, then you need to embrace CRT and be actively anti-racist. If you’re open to learning more, consider attending Chefalo Consulting’s Trauma-Informed MasterClass, where we cover all the core concepts of the trauma-informed model, including structural violence and cultural competency.


When you register now through July for our Trauma-Informed MasterClass, you'll enjoy a $250 early-bird discount! Reserve your seat here.

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