White supremacists more likely to claim they’ve been victimized

OK, Karen.

White people who report feeling traumatized by interactions with someone of a different race tend to identify with white supremacist attitudes — even if they were never genuinely victimized, according to a new study published in the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development.

The group of researchers invited 145 white Americans to share their anecdotes related to race for the report. They sought to explore race-based trauma, which “can be extremely harmful leading to intrusive thoughts about the incident (e.g., nightmares, flashbacks), avoidance (i.e., people and places that remind you of the incident) and hyper-vigilance, among other symptoms,” study author Veronica E. Johnson told PsyPost.

She and her colleagues wanted to understand why white people would report traumatic symptoms when the circumstances of the racial incident don’t justify the outcome.

Of the few “who did report symptoms of racial trauma, they were also found to hold beliefs of white racial superiority and were generally naive to systemic racism and white privilege,” Johnson said, suggesting that white folks who make egregious claims against black people “simply know little to nothing about [those issues].” (See also: The Central Park “Karen,” Amy Cooper.)

She added, “Further, it may be that a belief in white racial superiority makes one particularly susceptible to white fragility, or expectations for comfort in cross-racial interactions and low tolerance for race-based stress.”

The study found that while being targeted for one’s race can indeed be traumatic — that’s not usually the type white people experience.

“When [white people] did report negative racial incidents, they tended to be vicarious experiences, where they were not the intended targets” of racism, said Johnson. Aside from the occasional verbal insult, such as being called a “cracker,” she said that other negative experiences they discussed dealt with the violation of “racial rules,” such as being told to leave a predominantly black neighborhood.

Johnson suggests that race-based education could play a big part in addressing the issue.

White people who think they’ve experienced racial trauma likely “do not have a complex understanding of race in the US and thus may erroneously equate their racial experiences with psychological harm,” she said.

“However, white Americans with a complex understanding of race appear to understand that racial discrimination, while uncomfortable for them, is not connected to harmful and dangerous consequences like it is for Americans of color.”

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