The horrific image of George Floyd taking his last breath is seared into our hearts and minds. Since that tragic event, we continue to bear witness to racial violence, police brutality, and incidents of discrimination that are played repeatedly in the news and via social media. The cumulative effect of these stressful reports can be traumatizing, and they are having a profound impact on our educators and students of color.
Racial battle fatigue (RBF), a term coined by critical race theorist William Smith, reflects the cumulative results of race-related stress. It emerges not only due to macroaggressions, but also from daily microaggressions, such as dismissive and demeaning comments directed at Black and Brown individuals. Basically, RBF is a wearing down based upon one’s racial identity. Some of the symptoms include depression, anger, frustration, and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness that a person of color is unable to contribute to positive change.
RBF is persistent and pervasive, and it manifests in different ways dependent upon who the person of color is and what he or she has experienced in the past. And while RBF impacts every aspect of our society, in higher education and K-12 environments, we predominantly see it’s imprint through hateful, divisive speech on social media, racial profiling in our society and our schools, and discipline policies that differ for students of color.