Pscychologists and counsellors have an important role to play in helping people to make sense of negative race-based experiences in their life, and helping them to decide how to respond to them. Although psychologists have been aware of the mental and emotional impacts of racism on individuals for decades, there has been very little effort to train psychologists and counsellors to measure the symptoms of race-based traumatic stress (RBTS) in their patients. This gap in the training of health professionals – and therefore in the provision of mental health services – has had a detrimental effect particularly on the mental health of white patients who have been racially abused, racially exploited, and targeted for their perceived ‘Whiteness’.
White racism-victims are experiencing racial inequalities in the management of their symptoms of RBTS (also known as racial stress and racial trauma), compared to their non-White counterparts. Non-white racism-survivors have an array of options for racial trauma recovery. However, a form of systemic ‘racism-blindness’ has stopped mental health services reaching white survivors of racism. Racism-survivors from all racial backgrounds have a legal right to have equal access to high quality racial trauma counselling, racial trauma therapy, and self-help recovery resources.
As a White racism-survivor, and a medical doctor, with a background in general practice, paediatrics and psychiatry, I have taken steps to meet this need. My experience as a mother, and a volunteer youth worker for nearly 20 years has given me teaching skills which I have utilised to produce my ‘classical anti-racism’ multimedia resources. I launched my website and Instagram page Anti Racism For All (ARFA) to provide self-help resources for survivors of racism and racial exploitation from all racial backgrounds, including people referred to as White. While we don’t want to over-react to minor acts of racism, we don’t want to under-react to major acts of racism either.
The racially-aggravated assaults that I experienced when I was a teenager impacted me in many ways. They affected my self-esteem, and my relationship to my own appearance, my own race, my perpetrators’ race, and my country. As a fair-skinned, blonde-haired teen, I felt like a walking target. I was often scared. I used to dye my hair brown, and fake-tan my white skin. My studies suffered because I had to spend so much time and energy defending myself against constant race-based attacks. Eventually I moved away from the place where this was happening, and I made a good recovery. I went to university and became a medical doctor. I overcame my racial phobias by making good friends with people who looked like my perpetrators, and I learnt to love my appearance and my country. I resisted being drawn into far-right extremism.
I have now started ARFA to help other people to overcome their negative race-based experiences too. ARFA was launched on Racial Justice Sunday, 13th February 2022. ARFA aims to ensure that racism-survivors like me, from all racial backgrounds, are represented in public discourse, and are treated with respect and human dignity. Perhaps racism has the worst impact on the mental health of our youth, who are highly sensitive to identity-based violence. ARFA aims to treat young people with utmost care as they develop their own sense of self. All young people should feel included in conversations about the potential negative impact of racism on their lives.
ARFA opposes all forms of racism, including racial harassment, racial discrimination, and racial victimisation. ARFA opposes interpersonal racism, institutional racism, and systemic racism (which affects every racial group differently). ARFA uses the Equality Act 2010 definition of ‘racism’: ‘Racism is the less favourable treatment of a person due to race, skin colour, nationality, or ethnicity.’ This definition is based in reality, and it is based in the law. People who follow this definition of racism are unlikely to be in breach of the law.
Unfortunately, the old myth that ‘White people can’t experience racism’ persists, despite over 40% of ‘race hate crime’ victims in England and Wales being White. Also the myth that ‘Black people can’t be racist’ still persists, despite only approximately 17% of perpetrators of ‘race hate crimes’ being White. And the myth that ‘White privilege means that white people don’t get treated worse because of the colour of their skin’ persists, despite centuries of White people being enslaved in the Barbary slave trade, and millions of so-called ‘privileged’ White people being treated worse because of their perceived ‘Whiteness’.
AFRA does not teach or endorse ‘anti-racism’ education which only opposes racism against people referred to as non-White. ARFA recognises that it is illegal for anti-racism educators to racially stereotype all Black people as being ‘victims of racism, and racially oppressed’, and to racially stereotype all white people as being ‘perpetrators of racism and racial oppressors’. Although of course, in some cases, these stereotypes are undoubtably true, in many cases, the situation is the other way around – non-White perpetrators racially oppress White victims. Denying that anti-White racism exists is a violation of human dignity.
ARFA supports the teaching of fairness, understanding, and the shared humanity of all people, irrespective of their racial backgrounds. In addition to this essential teaching, ARFA also acknowledges the very serious mental, emotional, physical and spiritual impacts of racism. ARFA does not attempt to dismiss, minimise or invalidate any racism-survivor’s racial stress, or racial trauma. ARFA offers more than just ‘teaching individualism’ in order to oppose racism. Acknowledging that racism has a negative impact on victims is essential for both ‘survivor support’ and for ‘perpetrator prevention’.
ARFA’s website outlines the laws relating to ‘racism’, and explains your legal rights not to be racially harassed, discriminated against, or victimised. Our website outlines the definition of ‘race hate crimes’ and explains why they should be treated more seriously in the courts, with higher sentencing than comparable non racially-aggravated crimes. The law recognises that there always has to be a balance between your ‘freedom of speech’ and the restriction of your right to ‘incite to racial hatred’ which could lead to violent attacks on innocent people.
Racism is a mental health issue. Racism-survivors may suffer from racial phobias, or may develop race-based delusions. Because racism is stressful, victims may suffer from any mental illness associated with stress, including anxiety, depression and PTSD. Survivors may use cultural idioms such as ‘posttraumatic slave syndrome’, to refer to the symptoms of distress experienced due to modern-day race-based slavery, or due to intergenerational race-based slavery. Racism is also a national security issue, because all forms of extremism and war are linked in some way to race-based hatred/demonisation/
ARFA was created in an attempt to disrupt the pathways between someone having negative race-based experiences, and someone being drawn into race-based extremism. People who have experienced racism are more likely to be drawn into extremist movements, because these movements may appear to offer them protection, or a solution to a perceived (real or imagined) racial threat. However, with understanding and support from ARFA, individuals may be guided away from extremism, and towards racial healing, healthy self-identity, and safe relationships with others.
It has become a serious safeguarding issue to ensure that children are not being racially exploited by extremist groups, who would wish to use them sexually, financially, or as slave labour in order to further their political aims. ARFA teaches professionals how to ‘spot the signs’ of this kind of dangerous racial exploitation that may be inadvertently being promoted through schools and public bodies. It is important that all safeguarding professionals are aware of these dangers.
Children may have been exposed to racial phobia indoctrination. This is an ‘us vs them’ mentality. Children’s racial grievances may be inflamed and exploited by groups who wish to use children to raise funds, or as slave labour, in order to further their religious, political or militant aims. Extreme racial ideologies call for murder, war and genocide of people from specific racial groups. Racism is therefore a motivator of serious crime, that all Criminal Justice bodies should be confident in dealing with. ARFA resources can be used to help professionals to rehabilitate criminals who commit race-based crimes.
For psychologists and counsellors working with child, adolescent or adult racism survivors, and racial exploitation survivors, ARFA suggests using the model of the ‘five stages of racial trauma grieving’: denial, anger, battling, depression, and acceptance. These five stages are based on Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grieving. These stages of racial trauma grieving can be moved through either individually, or collectively in a group. Going through all five stages is necessary for racial trauma resolution.
For racism-survivors, and the victims of racial exploitation, ARFA offers tips and suggestions for recovery. These are methods that could be facilitated through psychotherapy and counselling services. These might include self-care, self-compassion, self-cherishing techniques, replacing negative race-based messaging with positive daily affirmations, un-learning internalised racial stereotyping, and challenging destructive race-based myths. Recovery might also include things like advising survivors how to chose clothes colours that complement their skin complexion, and advising them to avoid using damaging skin creams, tanning lotions, etc. in an attempt to change their skin appearance.
For teachers, ARFA offers tips on how to respond to race-based micro-aggressions, and how to report suspected extremist activity. Ways to defend yourself from acts of racism, or attempted racial exploitation, are essential life skill that should be taught to all children. ARFA explains to adults how to prepare children to defend themselves against verbal race-based attacks, and gives tips for avoiding racial abuse and exploitation. There are many useful tips on the website.
In clinical settings, psychologists and counsellors can measure the harm that has been done by acts of racism with Professor Robert T. Carter’s Race-Based Traumatic Stress Symptom Scale (RBTSSS). This test measures the negative impact of racial abuse and discrimination on a victim with a 52-item measure consisting of seven scales: depression, anger, physical reactions, avoidance, intrusion, hyper vigilance, and low self-esteem. This test can then also be used to measure the positive impact of racial trauma recovery therapy and counselling. All psychology and counselling students should be taught how to use the RBTSSS, and how to manage racial stress and racial trauma in people from all racial backgrounds.
ARFA is a media group that has been founded by a white racism survivor, specifically with all racism-survivors in mind. ARFA’s resources open up an exciting new ethical alternative to racialised anti-racism education. Our resources are for individuals, mental health professionals, counter-extremism professionals, and people working with perpetrators in criminal justice settings. We are a new organisation. More resources will be added in due course. ARFA welcomes support from anyone who wishes to help racism-survivors, and who wants to keep citizens safe from racial abuse and racial exploitation in the future.
Dr Ella Bridges MBBCH is the CEO of Anti Racism For All (ARFA).
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