I work in a homeless shelter that serves 21 families and currently 90% of those families identify as African American, single family homes with the mother as the primary support. With each day they are living in our shelter, a new challenge is presented to these women, more specifically these Black women. Each day, society tells a Black woman to play the hand she’s dealt and to make it happen. But at what cost? Trauma surrounding Black women occurs at higher rates than any other racial group and the homeless women at the shelter have it tougher than others.

Judy suffered tremendous trauma as a result of her unlawful termination a few years ago. During our time together, Judy shared that her termination began to rehash some other occurrences she encountered years ago at the hands of a man who sexually assaulted her. For years, Judy has walked around not working through these traumatic experiences because society had taught her that as a Black woman her feelings are invalid and that crying over spilled milk will do nothing. These teachings are common for Black women and yet, so many of us fail to understand the trauma that is occurring within us.

Mirco-aggressive behaviors are encountered by African American women on a daily basis through systemic racial inequalities, lack of employment and sustainable resources for one’s family, body language and even facial expressions. Judy’s termination was a result of her standing up for herself because of an inequality in pay between her and a white woman colleague. Society has again told a Black woman that she lacks value and that her place in this world is expendable. What’s important to note is that racial trauma in Black women is a rarely spoken of  phenomenon that deserves our attention. Trauma in Black women has physical, emotional, social and economic consequences. So, why is this so important for our work?

Judy is one of several women who has experienced trauma after trauma eventually denying herself of the necessary therapeutic treatment to becoming emotionally healthy. As therapists it is important to include necessary interventions that are not only culturally appropriate for African Americans but more specifically for Black women. Historically, Black women have struggled to trust therapists because their experiences with racial trauma have often been negated and seen as unreal. But Judy’s experience teaches us differently. After Judy was unlawfully terminated, she lost her hair, teeth and eventually her home. Nine months later, Judy is still residing in the shelter with her 4-year-old grandson who has been diagnosed with Autism. Judy became anxious almost immediately after her intake at the shelter and has a hard time finding permanent housing because she lost her home. Until recently, Judy has been focusing on surviving and making her small ends meet to provide for herself and her grandson.

Our role in providing the best therapeutic support for clients and families like Judy’s is to not only be culturally aware, but also be self-aware of the systemic pressures that plague Black families. Black women are used to having to do and be all for everyone and putting themselves on the back burner. Our role as therapists is to be a source of comfort, support, and peace for Black women who have felt alone and distant from a world that fails this population often.

My office has become a place of safety for Judy. Daily, she works through the racial trauma she has encountered from her previous employer. As her therapist, my ability to listen objectively has provided Judy a voice that is often overlooked. One way to connect with Judy and other Black women who suffer from microagressions is to be aware of how you play a role in this behavior. How do you welcome Judy’s into your space? Are you informed about the trauma that Black women experience in their professional, personal and health management settings? Further, sitting with therapists of color to actively listen and employ strategies, increases trust from the client. Finally, allow therapists of color a seat at the table to make policy changes that affect the clients we serve. Having a voice that is often unrecognized provides tools of competence for all who are at the table that empowers our clients as well.

Back to Judy ☺

While Judy has not yet fully recovered from being terminated Judy has found an apartment and reasonable daycare for her grandson. She has become a source of support for other Mom’s in the shelter, even encouraging everyone to vote in the November election. She is passionate in advocating for sexual assault victims and those who experience racial and systemic injustices. The work that we have done has allowed Judy to find her voice and stand tall for those who cannot.

Judy is an example of how our work to provide a safe space for Black women in turn creates more safe spaces for other Black women.

Blakey, J. M., & Grocher, K. B. (2017). “Keeping It Real”: The Relational Effects of Trauma Among African American Women and Their Substance Abuse Treatment Counselors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260517708403