Home News Center Anti-Racism Resource: Understanding the Impact of Racial Trauma on Girls of Color

Anti-Racism Resource: Understanding the Impact of Racial Trauma on Girls of Color

February 25, 2021
Courtney M. McSwain

This month, in recognition of Women's History Month, our anti-racism resource section is focusing on the impact of racial trauma on girls of color. 

We've seen in the news just recently the horrific treatment of girls of color by police and authority figures, such as the cases in Rochester, New York where a 9-year old Black girl was pepper sprayed (triggering) by police and an instance in Osceola County, Florida where a 16-year old Black girl was body slammed (triggering) and handcuffed by a school resource officer. These instances and countless others underscore the criminalization that young girls of color face, yet their unique plight of dealing with simultaneous racial and gender oppression is often not explored with the nuance and specificity it deserves.   

A recent report by the Center for American Progress explains the racial trauma that girls of color experience early in life leading to toxic stress that impacts brain development and subsequently attention, memory, stress response and other factors. Left untreated, the toll of toxic stress can lead to negative emotions, behavioral problems in school, substance abuse and possible self-harm. According to the report, girls are much more likely to internalize their pain, and children of color in general are far less likely to receive mental health treatment for such experiences. The resulting behavior disruptions are often penalized through punishment in the school or legal system rather than treated with mental health support.  

Further, girls of color carry the impacts of the systemic racism and racial trauma they experience in adolescence into adulthood. For instance, research has shown that the history of systemic racism and stereotypes about Black women not only affects the medical treatment they receive, but the toxic stress of racial trauma actually correlates with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension and dementia, which disproportionately plague Black women.   

Understanding the long-term effects of racial trauma on girls of color is important for youth justice advocates, as we work to dismantle the structural racism inherent in the youth legal system. This month, we invite you to consider how our collective advocacy can address the unique experiences of girls of color, and take into consideration the ways in which racial trauma correlates with increased system involvement.  


[NJJN Brief]: Addressing the Intersection of Gender and Racial Disparities. NJJN.com, 2016.
NJJN provides a brief overview of and policy recommendations for addressing racial and gender disparities in the youth legal system.

[Report]: The Unequal Toll of Toxic Stress: How the Mental Burdens of Bias, Trauma, and Family Hardship Impact Girls and Women. 
Center for American Progress. November 17, 2017.  
The Center for American Progress details the impact of racial trauma and toxic stress on girls of color.

[Report]: Be Her Resource: A Toolkit About School Resource Officers and Girls of Color.
Center on Poverty and Equality, Georgetown Law School. 2018. 
Findings and recommendations from focus groups and interviews with girls of color in the south about school resource officers.

[Digital Report]: Denied.
A compilation of multiple articles with patients, doctors and experts speaking out about how the "strong Black woman" stereotype and systemic racism affect Black women's access to quality health care — and how we can change it. 

[Article]: “A Battle for the Souls of Black Girls,” NYTimes.com. October 1, 2020.
A look at the discipline disparities against Black girls. 

[Article]: “Here’s how one Memphis school is changing the way it disciplines girls of color,”
tn.chalkbeat.org. May 2, 2017.
Ideas for how to reimagine discipline in school with the understanding of the impact of racial trauma. 

[Film]: Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. A Woman in the Room Productions, By Monique Morris & Jacoba Atlas. 
From the website: “A feature length documentary that takes a deep dive into the lives of Black girls and the practices, cultural beliefs and policies that disrupts one of the most important factors in girls’ lives – education.” 

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