Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

'We all have it': Broderick Sawyer '12 demystifies race-based trauma

Published on December 24, 2020

'We all have it': Broderick Sawyer '12 demystifies race-based trauma

Broderick Sawyer Broderick Sawyer, a clinical psychologist and 2012 Eastern Connecticut State University graduate, spoke on race-based stress and trauma on Dec. 16 during the final University Hour presentation of the fall semester.

Sawyer’s talk covered past and present racial dynamics in the United States and emphasized the long-lasting impacts of racial discrimination on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). His lecture concluded with thoughts on healing, for BIPOC and White people alike.

“What is race-based trauma and how do we heal?” asked Sawyer, explaining that race-based trauma is something all people have, regardless of race. “It’s not a disorder, it’s a daily reality,” he said, adding that it can indeed lead to diagnosable disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Sawyer gave a quick history lesson: African American people’s first 246 years on this continent — from 1619 to 1865 — were experienced as property under the oppressive rule of slavery. The following 89 years — until 1954 — was the time of Jim Crow and legalized segregation. The past 66 years have seen the struggles of integration and the civil rights movement, and even today we continue to see outsized acts of police brutality — as well as subtler expressions of racism — against Black people.     

Since the beginning Black people in the United States have been conditioned to keep themselves “small,” said Sawyer, whereas White people — in a constant position of social power — have been conditioned to prosper. With this social power, Sawyer said, comes “the privilege to deny this reality and the truth of privilege.”

“We all have racist conditioning inside of us… but people are not bad,” he said. “The conditioning is bad.”

Sawyer referred to popular media, in which racial presentations historically have been “latent with stereotypes,” with White people depicted as “heroes and damsels in distress” and Black people as “thugs and prostitutes.” Sawyer said that people internalize these stereotypes and see them “as normal ways to think.”

Pointing to the historical underrepresentation of BIPOC in leadership roles in government and business, he added, “Racism is embedded into the rules because the people who write them all are White.” 

In order for BIPOC and White people to heal from their respective traumas, Sawyer calls for education, self-awareness and antiracist policy. “Educate yourself and mindfully watch your behavior. Once you are aware of your conditioning, then you can change.”

Sawyer also calls for open dialogue about race and trauma and urges people to speak up when they see racist behavior. “Avoiding these conversations and basic truths reinforces racist socialization. If you continue to act, your participation goes from unconscious to voluntary.”

He reminded students that one is never “there”; that no one is suddenly not racist just because they’ve heard a lecture or seen a documentary. It takes constant self-education and self-monitoring. One needs to face discomfort: “What you resist, you persist.”

Sawyer is a Connecticut-based clinical psychologist specializing in race-based stress and trauma, mindfulness and compassion. His workshops, lectures and consulting services are designed to help manage race-based stress and trauma, develop inclusive institutions and communities, decrease stress and increase emotional intelligence, and improve relationships. For more information, visit

Written by Michael Rouleau