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Dispatches: The Lasting Impact of Racial Trauma

News and notes from Pacific Standard staff and contributors.

America's racial past is an ugly one. It's riddled with death, enslavement, and even war. Over time people have attempted to bury or obfuscate this past, but, in recent years, after Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, and Donald Trump's election, our country is being forced to confront ongoing issues with racism.

Bryan Stevenson is a particularly impassioned and persuasive voice on this topic. He is a Harvard University-trained public defense attorney who is the director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Pacific Standard contributing writer James McWilliams spoke with Stevenson about the ongoing societal damage created through this traumatic history in the modern day. He discussed how confronting these continued problems is the only way to achieve any sort of solution: "You can't do reconciliation work, you can't do restoration work, you can't do racial justice work, you can't create the outcome that you desire to see until there has been truth-telling."

Inclusive and thorough coverage of racial issues is an essential part of that truth telling. Racial trauma in America manifests itself in many different ways, and it’s ramifications can be wide reaching. Whether it shows itself in citizens losing faith in their civic institutions in places like Columbus, Ohio, or in how African-American men cope with violent injury. Childhood trauma, which children of color, can have effects that follow people into adulthood.

BRYAN STEVENSON ON WHAT WELL-MEANING WHITE PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RACE: An interview with Harvard University-trained public defense lawyer Bryan Stevenson on racial trauma, segregation, and listening to marginalized voices.

In an interview with editorial intern Chinelo Nkechi Ikem, writer Ijeoma Oluo brought up another aspect of racial trauma: how people of color are not only forced to reckon with these issues, but then also act as the main driver of conversations about race in America: "For people of color, not only are you bringing up trauma and things that have happened to you, and talking about real pains and experience, but you are also risking that pain being used against you and that pain causing even more pain." It is in this way that society expects people of color to take agency in changing the forces that have inflicted trauma upon them.

At Pacific Standard, we have a responsibility to take on part of this burden and push the conversation on race in America into a more productive and progressive place. By covering these stories and issues we are trying to help partake in that movement toward a more inclusive society.

This dispatch originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of