The Lack of Equity in Trauma-Informed Discourse: Unpacking Oppression and White Supremacy in Trauma-Informed Spaces
The trauma-informed model is centered around concepts like equity, anti-racism, and healing from structural violence, so why is it that trauma-informed discourse is still largely led by white voices?
White supremacy is deeply ingrained in American culture so that no organization, no community, no individual is completely immune. The trauma-informed sphere is largely led by white voices, particularly white cisgender heterosexual male voices.
Consider the big names in trauma-informed care—Bessel Van der Kolk, Stephen Porges, Peter Levine, Dan Siegel, Gabor Maté. While each of these people has unique life experiences, they do not represent people of color. They do not represent women. They do not represent the queer community.
Where are the voices of Black women? Where are the voices of queer and trans individuals? Where are the voices of POCs from all walks of life discussing their experiences of trauma and healing?
They are out there, and it is our responsibility to increase awareness, support diverse leaders, and create more space in our field for diverse individuals to thrive.
Sometimes, the diverse voices we need in our field do not use “trauma-informed” language because many communities which have opted into the trauma-informed model fail to live their values. As a result, “trauma-informed” can leave a bad taste in the mouth of those who fight for social justice and equity.
Other times, working professionals in the field fail to uplift diverse voices because they fail to value them. It is common to unconsciously value the voices of white men over the voices of women and people of color—not because we want to, but because we are taught to. We look to the “best of the best,” the “top experts” in our field, who all happen to be white men.
Even if we maintain an explicit stance against discrimination, our implicit bias tends to overrule the way we think. It is a difficult thing to control, and it can be a difficult thing to admit to ourselves. But we must accept that we have implicit biases if we want to learn, grow, and heal.
How do we combat white supremacy in TIC?
If we want to create change in the trauma-informed field, we must understand and acknowledge that certain voices are centered while others are de-centered and marginalized, even within trauma-informed spaces themselves. Then, we must explore options to center and amplify marginalized voices.
Trauma-informed work is inside-out work. We must do the inner work before we can expect to see changes in those around us.
So, if you want to combat white supremacy, consider:
Exploring how white supremacy has impacted you
Asking yourself how you have participated in white supremacy
Considering how you currently participate in white supremacy
Observing your core beliefs and how they support white supremacy (such as quantity over quality, power hoarding, objectification, cancel culture, hierarchal thinking, black-and-white thinking, etc.)
Actively working to notice and correct implicit bias
Key Takeaways: No one is immune to structural violence
If you take only one thing away from this article, take this message: no one is immune to structural violence.
Structural violence (white supremacy, capitalism, heteronormativity, etc.) is something that we are all impacted by and something that we all participate in.
In order to heal and create lasting change, we need to recognize that we, too—regardless of our identity, our job title, or our communities—participate in harmful structures that oppress others.
We do not do this because we want to. We do this because this is the world we were born into. And the first step towards change is acknowledging that there is a problem.
Many people struggle to accept that they possess internal biases. It is understandable that many people turn to denial when asked to look in a mirror and see what they dislike or even despise about the world within themselves. But we must.
This is why trauma-informed work is so important. Trauma-informed practices enable someone who cannot admit fault to find a place where they can share accountability and responsibility while still being kind to themselves.
Trauma-informed work is social justice work. It is inner healing and personal development work that supports the larger cultural changes we want to see in the world. And it starts with each and every one of us.