How Graphic Videos of Racial Violence Can Traumatize Viewers

I think this is a very important blog for both Black and white readers as well as other people of color. Speaking as a white person, what I’m going to share was totally new for me. In speaking with my Black friends, they not only knew and understood it, they live it.

What I’m talking about is something called “linked-fate PTSD.” It is explained in the NPR article entitled Videos Like the Tyre Nichols Footage Can Be Traumatic. An Expert Shares Ways to Cope. The author of the article, Juliana Kim, shared what Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist and expert on race-based trauma, shared with her. Williams said, “Videos containing violence and death are incredibly stressful and should be viewed sparingly…. Seeing things that happen like this to other people from your community broadly can have some traumatizing effects, especially if you’re part of a stigmatized of minoritized group that’s often dealing with trauma like this.”

A PBS article on the web entitled “When Black Death Goes Viral, It Can Trigger PTSD-like Trauma” validates the article above. “Escaping the imagery [meaning the videos that appear on TV and in social media showing violence perpetrated against Blacks] can be nearly impossible, especially as online users post commentary and news updates… research suggests that for people of color, frequent exposure to the shootings of black people can have long-term mental health effects…. There’s a heightened sense of fear and anxiety when you feel like you can’t trust the people who’ve been put in charge to keep you safe. Instead, you see them killing people who look like you….combined with the everyday instances of racism, like microaggressions and discrimination, that contributes to a sense of alienation and isolation. It’s race-based trauma.’”

An article in Science Direct, entitled “Linked Fate and Mental Health among African Americans” the abstract states the following: “Linked-fate, the feeling that what happens to one’s group may indelibly shape one’s own life, is variously conceptualized as an aspect of ethnoracial identity, expression of political solidarity, and/or sense of ethnoracial consciousness. …. linked-fate may also be compellingly conceptualized as an expression of collective threat and vulnerability with potential relevance for the mental health of African Americans, in particular. Nevertheless, existing research on race and mental health has remained silent on this issue, as linked-fate has received little scholarly attention from researchers interested in mental health…. linked-fate not only fails to be health-protective but is significantly associated with poorer mental health among African Americans in the form of increased suffering from major depression, bipolar I, and anxiety disorders.”

This past week Lakeside Global Institute (LGI) trainer and supervisor Cathleen Stith-Watkins, my friend, colleague and co-author of the LGI Trauma 108 workshop entitled “The Trauma of Racism” brought this phenomenon to my attention. As a Black woman, she shared with me that she purposely avoids seeing any of the videos that are so prominent today on TV and in social media because of how they negatively impact her. She made sure we included information for our trainers facilitating our Trauma of Racism workshop about linked-fate PTSD to share with participants so that any people of color who were in attendance were advised to use their Self-Care plans to protect themselves when we showed a brief video that we realized could invoke linked-fate PTSD.

As I continue my journey to become more informed about racism and its impact, I am grateful to have learned that Blacks and people of color have the right and responsibility to protect themselves when videos are aired because of this phenomenon. I fervently hope learning all this has increased my sensitivity and I share it in this blog to give you that opportunity as well.

I hope this information incentivizes you to do a little more research on your own to gain a better understanding of what linked-fate PTSD is and why it is so important for both Black and white folks to appreciate. I come away from this with a deeper respect for just how sensitive I need to be in areas that are foreign to me because I am white. I also need information to help me better understand and relate at a deeper, more sensitive level with my Black colleagues and friends.

I know I can never fully appreciate the many racially driven experiences of my Black friends just as my Black friends and colleagues cannot know what it’s like to live in this country as a white person. When it comes to our skin color, our life experiences are vastly different. To promote some degree of reconciliation, recovery and healing, I think we all need to take a journey towards raising our awareness and understanding about very serious, life-altering, potentially mental-health damaging experiences that can happen when those who are Black are exposed to videos showing vicious, unjust attacks on people just because they are Black.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Were you aware of the concept of linked-fate PTSD? If this information is new to you, notice how learning about it makes you feel.
  2. How can those of us who are white benefit from a raised awareness of this concept? How can we support our Black friends, such as encouraging them to avoid viewing videos with images of someone Black being physically attacked during a traffic stop?
  3. If you are Black, to what extent have you experienced linked-fate PTSD and/or the stress, anxiety, and/or depression researchers have shared in the articles cited in this blog? What can you do to be self-protective?

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One response to “How Graphic Videos of Racial Violence Can Traumatize Viewers”

  1. Carol

    I was not aware of linked-fate PTSD. I viewed in person and on the news, several crimes committed on or near the public transportation (SEPTA) routes. When traveling to work, I witnessed two men prepare to pull out their guns but were dissuade by another man to “not do it here”. I was also witness to a man dying of a drug overdose on the EL platform in Center City(15th Street). Not only will I not forget this, I will not forget there was a young African American school aged (Middle School?) male who clutched his book bag while taking all of this in.
    Prior to these events I also viewed several incidents of violence on People of Color by others. This caused me to think of what has happened in my presence as well as the incidents that have taken place that harmed others I have watched on video. The elderly man struck and killed with a parking cone by young teens, and just recently the elderly man knocked unconscious and robbed.
    I have made up my mind to no longer view these incidences on social media or the local news. I have found myself being super vigilant on all the modes of transportation I take (buses, the MFL and BSL).I do want to be aware of persons identified by the news as violent but at the same time be peaceful in my heart and mind while traveling. Remembering His promises and prayer brings comfort!