Pittsburgh resident Kimberly Crawford-Champion tackling the condition of ‘racial trauma’
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
“Racial Trauma”—seldom is this two-word condition ever uttered, but often is how much African Americans truly experience it.
But what exactly is racial trauma?
Erlanger Turner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston, described it in 2017 to New York Magazine as “experiencing psychological symptoms such as anxiety, hypervigilance to threat, or lack of hopefulness for your future as a result of repeated exposure to racism or discrimination.”
There aren’t many researchers who study racial trauma across the country, but in our own backyard, Kimberly Crawford-Champion has her pulse on the condition.
A Schenley High School graduate, Crawford-Champion is pursuing a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Point Park University. She’s already earned her master’s in clinical-community psychology in 2019 and a bachelor’s in psychology in 2016, both from Point Park.
She’s doing her dissertation work on racial trauma.
“As a humanistic therapist oriented in Experiential Personal Construct Psychology (EPCP), I believe humans are relational beings who make meaning of the world by way of contextual experiences,” she said on Point Park’s website.
“EPCP offers a means of healing that involves credulity and invitational exploration in honoring the lived experience of the trauma of racism. Exploring racial trauma through an experiential, empathic lens demands that one take into consideration the context or surrounding environment to include the physiological, psychological, social, cultural and relational experience of being in the world for the African American individual. More importantly, EPCP stresses the importance of being with the suffering in order to establish intimate relationship as the change agent in the therapeutic encounter.
Racial trauma offers a legitimate and powerful response to the question, ‘Why did he run?’ that is often posed following an incident of police violence where an unarmed African American has suffered loss of life.”
Imagine the trauma suffered by the woman who witnessed 17-year-old Antwon Rose II being shot three times on June 19, 2018, in East Pittsburgh, by a former East Pittsburgh police officer. She captured the shooting on her cell phone from her home window.
Rose died from the shooting, and the shooter, Michael Rosfeld, was later found not guilty on all charges.
Imagine the trauma suffered by Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old—yes, 17-year-old—girl who recorded the fatal encounter of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest on Memorial Day.
“This has been very hard on her, she’s definitely traumatized, she’s had trouble sleeping…when she closes her eyes, she sees it all over again,” Frazier’s attorney, Seth Cobin, said on “CBS This Morning” in June.
“This is a really difficult thing for her to cope with. Her whole entire life has been turned upside down. She went from just another 17-year-old going to high school…to being the center of media attention, the center of the whole world’s attention. Everything’s focused on her now and it’s changed her life in many ways, and I don’t think these changes are anything she ever wanted.”
Cobin said that Frazier had received professional help. “This has been very hard on her, but she knows she did the right thing.”
But unlike many of her White high school counterparts from more affluent suburbs, Frazier had witnessed numerous police encounters with African Americans in her Minneapolis community, which adds to racial trauma in a general sense. For Frazier, who was just walking with her 9-year-old cousin to the store and saw officers roughing up Floyd, she wanted to make sure this encounter with another Black man was captured on video, which is why she began recording. She felt that her word would never stand up against a police officer’s word.
Her video, as everyone knows, is the primary reason the officers were immediately fired, why one officer, Derek Chauvin, is facing murder charges, and the catalyst for much of the incremental, yet positive changes occurring across the country in the fight for racial equality.
THIS PHOTO, captured by Courier photographer J.L. Martello in late May in Homewood, illustrates the often-tense and strained relationship African Americans have with police, not only in Pittsburgh, but across the country.
Some researchers say those who experience racial trauma have similar experiences to people who have PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, PTSD is often triggered by a single event, while racial trauma and racial stress is continuous and can affect entire Black communities.
Another way one can experience racial trauma is workplace discrimination. A White person received a promotion over a Black person who has a better job performance, or a Black person is disciplined at work more harshly than their White co-worker.
Imagine how Alexis Johnson felt. She’s the African American reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who was not allowed to cover local George Floyd protests due to a tweet she sent from her personal account that PG management felt showed bias. But a White co-worker, Joshua Axelrod, spoke out in June to say that he also had a social media misstep around the same time, but said that he “was initially treated in a much more lenient manner by newsroom management than Alexis Johnson or Michael Santiago were.”
Santiago is the Black PG photographer who was also taken off protest coverage, and he responded by leaving the newspaper company.
“It was not an easy decision, but…how can I work for someone that doesn’t love me,” he wrote on Twitter in June.
The Post-Gazette responded in an op-ed stating that race never played a role in its decision-making about Johnson and Santiago.
YOUNG PEOPLE participate in a protest in East Liberty. (Photo by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)
Racial trauma can also occur just by watching the nightly news and constantly being fed stories of African Americans being arrested for various crimes.
Symptoms of racial trauma include depression and angry outbursts, according to New York Magazine’s 2017 article on the condition. But Turner said another effect is a “reluctance to interact with or general mistrust of White people.”
Dara Winley, Ph.D., wrote in an article in Psychology Today on June 1 that racial trauma’s lasting effects can also include issues with one’s self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth.
And the University of Georgia’s Department of Psychology said that due to the trauma, African Americans sometimes have a “less willingness to take academic risks” and thus have “higher school dropout rates after racial discrimination is perceived.”
For African American males in Pittsburgh Public Schools, the graduation rate has been a constant concern.
At one time, in 2015, the graduation rate in the district for Black males was 57 percent. It improved to 73 percent as of 2017.
But, to place a spin on racial trauma, Crawford-Champion, the Pittsburgh-area resident, said that racial trauma “also offers African Americans an opportunity to redefine ourselves, to investigate the ways in which we have internalized overt and covert messages of inferiority and to forgive or let go of those things which have been placed on us as a result of racism.”
EMMAI ALAQUIVA captured this photo of a woman at a recent Pittsburgh protest. Alaquiva said the woman’s facial expressions in the photo illustrated the struggles that African Americans have in the U.S. pertaining to police brutality and systemic racism in general.
Crawford-Champion is the creator of the Facebook page “Because Love Matters,” designed for the uplifting and de-stigmatization of Black youth. The online group has more than 725 members, and it grows each day.
She also has spoken at a Downtown protest sponsored by the organization Black, Young and Educated. She told the protest attendants how police violence helps to perpetuate racial trauma in African Americans.
Crawford-Champion is a veteran, having served in peacetime during Operation Forge in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1999-2000, and in wartime in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2003.
But as previously mentioned, one doesn’t have to serve in Afghanistan to have similar PTSD symptoms, because racial trauma is real, and it’s well-documented. And while many in Black communities in Pittsburgh and across the U.S. are experiencing it, those who seek professional help for it are miniscule.
In the same vein, however, professional help may not be financially feasible. The American Psychological Association said those who are experiencing racial trauma should practice self-care, which includes connecting with family, friends and other small groups for support.
The University of Georgia’s Department of Psychology also encourages engaging in activism. “Feeling empowered involves participating in actions to solve difficulties,” the department said on its website.
“I believe the construct of racial trauma makes room for White Americans to evaluate or take personal inventory of themselves,” Crawford-Champion said on Point Park’s website. “…To forgive or let go of guilt or shame and with an open hand, pick up the mantel of social justice and stand with their Black and brown brothers and sisters as many have already done in recent peaceful protests across America and throughout the world.”
Crawford-Champion said that her career goals are centered around her love for God and the promotion of social justice. “I plan to work with individuals from all walks of life to encourage, to be with and to speak life to marginalized populations, in particular, with the understanding that racism is a pollution that impacts the human race.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Kimberly Crawford-Champion