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‘COURAGEOUS’: MSU Seminar Shares Breathing Technique to Reduce ‘Racial Stress’

Contributor: Grant Layle

A James Madison College (JMC) racial seminar discussed how ‘universal’ implicit bias, microaggressions, and even being 'non-racist' can cause racial stress and anxiety. Managing racial stress and improving ‘racial literacy’ included breathing techniques and self-talk.

On September 9, the JMC Office of Diversity Programming and Student Engagement hosted “Racial Stress Reduction: Preparing for the Next Encounter.” The discussion was led by Dr. Deborah J Johnson, director of the MSU Diversity Research Network.

[RELATED STORY: Michigan State May Scrub James Madison From Campus]

Held virtually, the event attracted 11 participants who were invited to share times when they felt marginalized because of race. Dr. Johnson spoke about the harm of racially insensitive behavior, microaggressions, and lack of ‘racial literacy.’ Personal examples, lecture slides, and attendee experiences were used to illustrate her points.

Dr. Johnson shared a friend’s reaction when receiving a doctorate, “if you managed that, I must be able to do anything.” The director said similar events of emotional suffering or microaggressions can include someone talking across you to someone else, pushing you out of a group conversation, or choosing not to sit next to you.

Microaggressions were defined as “intentional and often unintentional slights and insults” which can be “delivered with no awareness of the meaning.” Suffering such can lead to anxiety, lack of sleep, and depression, Dr. Johnson shared.

Slide obtained by The Morning Watch

The next half of the seminar focused on "Managing Racial Fight, Flight, and Fright (RFFF)" and "Racial Stress Reduction" techniques to reduce stress and ‘racial encounters.’ Practicing RFFF is ‘COURAGEOUS’ and includes ‘racial literacy,’ which includes “reading, recasting & resolving racial conflicts.”

[RELATED STORY: Mandatory Diversity Training Continuing, Despite Pandemic]

Breathing strategies to reduce stress included “breathe (5 seconds in) and exhale (7 seconds out).”

According to the presentation, racial literacy is needed to reduce systemic racism and can heal trauma that “legal dismantling of racism” will not.

The director later told viewers about the importance of “decoding racial subtext, subcodes, and scripts,” in order to properly identify racial insensitivity.

Towards her conclusion, Dr. Johnson drew attention to the racial stress that can rise out of reducing racial tension. “Racial stress can include people confronting the fear of being called racist. The research suggests that the activity we’re trying to do here, as a non-racist, can also increase the fear of being called a racist.”

As director of MSU’s Diversity Research Network, Dr. Johnson oversees the network’s efforts to connect “faculty of color and scholars interested in diversity research, to create scholarly communities, facilitate new interdisciplinary collaborations, and to advance the growth and visibility of research by underrepresented faculty as well as research on diversity across MSU.”

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