The problem of discrimination, violence and harmful attitudes affects many people worldwide. In particular, white fragility and white supremacy are two concepts revolving around the issue of racism. They contribute to trauma in marginalized groups and are associated with long-lasting adverse impacts on people’s lives. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the concepts of white fragility, white supremacy, racial trauma, implicit bias, microaggressions, multigenerational historical trauma, as well as incivility and bullying in the workplace.
White Fragility, White Supremacy, and Racial Trauma
Both white fragility and white supremacy refer to attitudes, reactions, and behaviors associated with the race-based differentiation of people. According to Resane (2021), the term “white fragility” was introduced by Robin DiAngelo in her book White fragility, where the author “boldly addresses the fear of the white population’s discussion about racism” (p. 2). In other words, there is a certain pattern in the responses and reactions of the Whites when race-related problems are discussed. DiAngelo has observed how different people in various working environments respond when they are involved in a conversation about racism and discrimination (Resane, 2021). In this regard, anger, denial, defensiveness, dismissiveness, discomfort, and resentment are common reactions, which might be rooted in the fact that people consider such debates personal attacks. At the same time, white fragility contributes to other challenges in society caused by racism and prevents a productive discussion from happening.
In turn, white supremacy is another phenomenon that has a tremendous impact on society. One could even argue that this approach constitutes the basis of the social order. Indeed, there is a prevailing belief supporting the alleged supremacy of people with lighter skin. It manifests in various aspects of the socio-economic, political, educational, and healthcare systems, affecting the BIPOC population (Resane, 2021). Racist policies and practices promote white privilege and domination in society as the norm. However, these concepts are socially constructed and not supported by evidence. As Resane (2021) reports, racial superiority “led to the formulation of racial policies that are universally known to be discriminatory, and promoting racial privileges such as white privilege, white normativity and white supremacy” (p. 3). Consequently, there is a number of inequalities between the Whites and the BIPOC population in terms of opportunities, benefits, services, and support.
While both white supremacy and white fragility are associated with race-based bias and inequalities, these two terms differ. In particular, white fragility refers to people’s reactions and discomfort with regard to racial discourse. White superiority is a broader concept that comprises attitudes, policies, and beliefs that support the idea of the white population’s privilege. As can be seen, the former is rather an attitude, and the latter is a mindset and a general way of thinking.
At the same time, both concepts relate to racial trauma, which can be defined as the adverse consequences of one’s encounter with discrimination and racism. They vary from mild to severe, including anxiety, stress, depression, PTSD, and others (Resane, 2021). To a certain extent, white fragility is a response to racial trauma that is caused by one’s own trauma. Such reactions as anger, denial, withdrawal, irritation, and confusion are common signs of the initial trauma response, and such an attitude indicates confusion and inability to encounter certain information. In turn, white supremacy is the main cause of structural racism, which is the root of inequalities and racial trauma.
Implicit Bias, Microaggressions, and Emotional Trauma
Implicit bias and microaggressions can be described as unconscious discriminative reactions and attitudes towards marginalized groups. They are rooted primarily in stereotypes and prejudice that exist in society; however, one’s cultural and personal background can contribute to this issue. The problem of hidden racial bias is that it causes automatic assumptions, preferences, and behaviors that are harmful to the BIPOC population (Turner et al., 2021). In turn, racial microaggressions are insults and indignities that occur in daily interactions and communication among people in various contexts. They can be intentional or unintentional, and examples include racial slurs, inconsiderate comments, dismissive or aggressive attitudes, invalidation, as well as various unethical behaviors. The BIPOC population is disproportionally affected by implicit bias and microaggressions.
This being said, hidden racial bias can contribute to the emotional trauma in people from marginalized groups because it relies on patterns and the generalization of individuals. For example, a person of color can face race-based stereotypes and prejudice in the workplace, which can cause stress and isolation and indicate a lack of understanding from colleagues and seniors. In turn, these factors deter productive workflow and professional growth. As a result, an individual can develop an emotional trauma aggravating their mental state. Another example can be provided in relation to the healthcare system. According to Turner et al. (2021), implicit bias can “lead to systematic dismissal of symptoms, inferior medical services, and less aggressive preventive care” (p. 1727). In this situation, patients will feel alienated and misunderstood, which can worsen their mental or physical state and discourage them from asking for medical care. Healthcare professionals can also be emotionally affected by bias, distrust, or stereotypes expressed by their colleagues or patients.
Similarly, microaggressions towards people from marginalized groups can cause emotional trauma. In particular, racism and discrimination are known to cause increased risks of depression, trauma, and anxiety in the BIPOC population (Turner et al., 2021). Microaggressions can vary in severity, but they all make people feel invalidated, silenced, threatened, or dismissed, which contributes to sleep problems, high blood pressure, heart disease, and headaches (Turner et al., 2021). Direct and indirect invalidating comments and microinsults create an unhealthy and unsafe environment for individuals from marginalized groups, supporting structural racism and supporting bias and stigma in society.
Multigenerational Historical Trauma
Multigenerational historical trauma refers to a traumatic experience of a certain racial, ethnic, or cultural group that could be observed during a prolonged period. According to Black and Flynn (2020), “historical trauma describes the consequences of oppression, violence, forced incarceration, assimilation, and death experienced by marginalized populations because of colonization, enslavement, subjugation, and genocide” (p. 135). Various ethnic and racial groups have experienced multigenerational traumatic events throughout history.
In particular, African Americans have faced racism, prejudice, discrimination, slavery, and race-based segregation at various points, which indicates that this marginalized group suffered significant historical trauma, whose consequences can still be found in society. The Blacks’ history was particularly affected by slavery since it created socio-economic disparities and strengthened structural racism (Black & Flynn, 2020). The lasting effects of the African Americans’ multigenerational trauma contribute to stigma and discriminative attitudes among people who consciously and unconsciously support the idea of white supremacy.
Furthermore, Native Americans have been affected by multigenerational historical trauma throughout history. This group of people has experienced assimilation policies, repeated losses, and aggressive colonization, which caused harm to their culture, traditions, and values (Black & Flynn, 2020). Historical trauma of Native Americans manifests in various ways, such as depression, alcohol and substance abuse, PTSD, self-destructive behavior, and internalized oppression (Black & Flynn, 2020). It is worth noting that parents’ traumatic experiences have long-lasting effects on children’s physical and mental health.
Therefore, it is essential to gain an understanding of groups of people that have suffered multigenerational historical trauma to address the problem and overcome social stigma. As can be seen, the effects of prolonged racism and traumatic events are long-lasting and can still be found in the modern world. Hence, awareness and understanding of the problem are the first critical steps required to reestablish harmful attitudes prevailing in society.
Incivility and Bullying in the Workplace
Incivility and bullying are harmful behaviors that involve disrespectful, inconsiderate, or violent actions toward certain individuals or groups of people. Unfortunately, they are rather common in the workplace, which disrupts the normal workflow and triggers trauma in employees. According to Aristidou et al. (2020), workplace bullying and incivility are considered to be damaging work-related stressors that present increased risks for employees’ physical, psychological, and mental health. There are numerous ways how such behaviors can disrupt the milieu of the workplace and trigger trauma.
To begin with, it is important to distinguish between incivility and bullying. Incivility is not targeted at a particular person or group and is associated with a lower level of harmful effects (Aristidou et al., 2020). However, it is still unacceptable and traumatic for people affected. At the same time, bullying is a harmful and repeated behavior that is aimed at a particular individual or group of people (Aristidou et al., 2020). It must be addressed by every company’s policy to protect employees, including victims and witnesses.
Both incivility and bullying can cause trauma-related symptoms associated with victimization, such as depression, anxiety, fear, PTSD, anger, confusion, and disorientation. Furthermore, there are increased risks of sleep problems, intrusive thoughts, suicidal ideation, self-destructive behaviors, heart problems, and other signs of mental and physical health problems (Aristidou et al., 2020). As can be seen, such effects disrupt the usual workflow and prevent people from personal and professional growth, aggravating the issue. Incivility and bullying have an adverse impact on the workforce since harmful and discriminative behaviors create an unhealthy working environment for everyone. Both victims and witnesses of bullying can suffer from long-lasting effects preventing normal functioning (Aristidou et al., 2020). Therefore, it is essential to implement procedures and policies on reporting hazardous behaviors to prevent and address bullying and incivility in the workplace. Furthermore, support must be provided to people affected in order to reduce trauma-related symptoms and facilitate the recovery of victims and witnesses.
Triggering Events Discussion
Triggering events usually cause a significant emotional reaction in people. They are undesirable for anyone; however, they can hardly be fully eliminated in society. As for me, I can identify three triggering events that affect me the most. In particular, they include race- or gender-based discrimination, animal cruelty, and bullying. When I witness a situation that involves discriminative, violent, or harmful behaviors, I feel highly uncomfortable and emotionally triggered.
In particular, race- or gender-based discrimination usually causes a noticeable reaction in me, whether I am the victim or a witness of such behavior. I am generally intolerant of prejudicial treatment of individuals and particularly marginalized groups. Therefore, I feel anger and significant discomfort even when I merely read about events involving race- or gender-based discrimination, let alone participate in them. Unfortunately, I cannot eliminate situations involving prejudice, disparities, and hatred. This being said, I try to respond to inconsiderate and harmful behaviors to raise others’ awareness of the problem and reduce the effects that inequality has on people.
Another triggering subject for me is animal cruelty and abuse. I do not respond calmly to this trigger due to my emotional involvement and general tendency to protect the weak. Since I am affected by seeing pictures or videos that contain animal cruelty, I choose to avoid graphic content on social media, which is possible thanks to trigger warnings. At the same time, I try to report any situations that involve animal abuse, including passive ones, even though I cannot fully prevent it from happening.
Finally, I am triggered by bullying, likewise when I am the target or a witness. For instance, fictional events in movies that involve violence make me uncomfortable due to my high emotional empathy. Real-life examples have an even more significant impact on me, and I respond to this trigger with an instant emotional reaction. Similarly, the only way to eliminate this trigger would be to address those problems that I witness and support others to maintain and advance justice.
To conclude, the discourse on the concept of race and societal problems associated with racial discrimination is multifaceted and complex. It is essential to understand harmful attitudes and beliefs in society, such as white fragility and white supremacy, and their contribution to racial trauma. Furthermore, implicit bias and microaggressions, along with multigenerational historical trauma, significantly contribute to racism and discrimination. Incivility and bullying are considered triggering events that can cause or aggravate trauma.
Aristidou, L., Mpouzika, M., Papathanassoglou, E. D., Middleton, N., & Karanikola, M. N. (2020). Association between workplace bullying occurrence and trauma symptoms among healthcare professionals in Cyprus. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 2896. Web.
Black, L. L., & Flynn, S. V. (2020). Crisis, trauma, and disaster: A clinician′ s guide. SAGE Publications.
Resane, K. T. (2021). White fragility, white supremacy and white normativity make theological dialogue on race difficult. In die Skriflig , 55(1), 1-10. Web.
Turner, J., Higgins, R., & Childs, E. (2021). Microaggression and implicit bias. The American Surgeon, 87(11), 1727-1731. Web.