According to Dr. William A. Smith, black folks and people of color suffer from racial battle fatigue, which can be likened to the accumulation of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) that Dr. Joy DeGruy previously discussed on my show. Think about a war veteran who struggles after coming home to a normalized environment and situation. The effects and impacts of war still haunt them despite being taken out of a dangerous and life-threatening atmosphere.
In the same sense, African Americans are in a constant state of worry and stress, because of the constant bombardment of racial microaggressions due to racism. Dr Smith says, “Usually when you take a veteran out of the source of conflict, he or she, once she returns to a normalized situation, that’s typically when the symptoms start to occur. That’s what makes it post. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Then they are put in a situation where they have other soldiers who can affirm their reality. When have black people been in a post racial condition or post racialized condition? We always are living that stress. It’s never post. People of color are never in a post racial condition. Those symptoms are constantly occurring, and they’re occurring across our life span. That’s the reason why black men are dying on average between 65 and 68 years of age, younger than any other major ethnic racial population in the country.”
Dr. Smith explained that symptoms of racial battle fatigue can arise from what the late professor Chester Pierce calls a person’s STEM (Space, Time, Energy, and Movement) being affected one way or another. When you have control of your STEM stress is reduced or non-existent. But when the opposite happens, stress increases. Dr Smith says, “When our STEM is oppressed, then our stress level goes up. What STEM stands for is space, time, energy, and movement. When you oppress those four things, stress increases, but when you have a sense of control of your space, you have control of your time, if you have control of our energy and your ability to move and go places without a threat, stress starts to reduce”.
He shared an experience where a police officer stopped him on the road and accused him of running the stop sign. In that situation, the policeman invaded his space and took control of his time, requiring him to spend more energy in dealing with a ticket and causing him to lose the ability to control his movement. His STEM being oppressed caused his stress levels to shoot through the roof.
But how does one deal or get rid of racial battle fatigue, if it’s even possible when it starts even before people of color are born? Dr. Smith connects the idea to what science calls epigenetics. Apparently, stressors are already part of a father’s DNA and that stress-carrying genetic marker is then transferred to the baby, resulting in them being pre-conditioned to a stressful and aggressive environment. Smith says, “To be very basic with this analogy, when a husband and a wife have intercourse to produce a baby, that genetic marker is then transferred into the fetus. Babies are already preconditioned to this environment. They really haven’t been given a real honest chance at life because it’s already been coded for them.”
But there is a great need to face this kind of fatigue because it can have adverse effects on health. Racial battle fatigue results in people of color having trouble concentrating, developing headaches when moving in and through spaces that mostly favor white people, and easily feel fatigued and stressed.
Challenging Racial Battle Fatigue
Dr. Smith recommends that people of color should learn to find ways to combat racial fatigue in a positive and healthy way. It is unhealthy for someone subjected to racial microaggression to drink the pain away or engage in other unhealthy and unhelpful activities. Because the fact of the matter is racial microaggression is not going to stop happening when people drink it away.
A black male in a white environment would continue to feel the fatigue and stress even when he’s at an advantage, simply because he will always be considered out of place. If he’s poor, the situation gets even worse. This is why black males’ morbidity and mortality decrease in such situations.
Challenging Racial Battle Fatigue also taps into Social Dominance Theory, which is a way to better understand how people are treated in a society and around the world. It brings to the fore how a particular group of people ends up oppressing others to dominate. It’s the only way they can dominate and come out on top. For instance, whites dominate over other races and enjoy white privilege.
It also gives enlightenment as to why people of color are treated differently around the world, and it has a lot to do with a global stereotype. Regardless of where they are in the world, blacks will experience some form of stereotype and discrimination. And so the racial fatigue continues.
Part of challenging racial fatigue, however, is understanding how blacks and people of color themselves play a part in what is going on. There’s no way to control racism or racial categorization, but people should learn a more adaptive form of coping rather than respond in ways that hurt themselves and others.
Challenging Racial Battle Fatigue talks about the importance of understanding that black people are both African and American. That is, they need to embrace their being an African and understand what it means to be black living in America. Being able to do this will provide black people a healthy perspective.
Dr. Smith suggests that it is important for black people to tell their children what it means to be black. To expose them to all the greatness of their history or the ancestry that they come from, and the potential success that they can achieve. Previous studies showed that people who are told of how great it is to be black, as opposed to being merely told that they are human, tend to be more successful in school and going forward.
The challenge is to rise against racial battle fatigue, which starts with a good understanding that there will always be preconceived ideas of who you are the moment you walk into a room, but you shouldn’t let those ideas define you. There are plenty of black people who showed greatness and became successful despite the many challenges. Making an example of them will help.
Challenging Racial Battle Fatigue shows how crucial it is to properly racially socialize children to help them succeed. Failure to do is setting them up for major failures. It is important for children to fully understand the world they are walking into and be prepared to deal with the challenges head on.
To say that the interview with Dr. Smith about Challenging Racial Battle Fatigue is enlightening is a major understatement. If you really listen to it, you will have a better understanding of how people can change their lives even with a stressful genetic marker running through their veins. Any black person or person of color can mitigate the experience of racial fatigue if they just understood more about it.