Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon Portland Community College

Racial Battle Fatigue: Time is now to continue critical equity work

By Mark Mitsui & Tricia Brand.

Dear PCC Colleagues, Students & Community Members:

These past two weeks—within the context of these past few months—have been especially difficult for communities of color. While the global pandemic has had a profound impact on everyone, it has had a disproportionately negative impact on our nation’s most marginalized and vulnerable, laying bare the entrenched and systemic inequities that are, tragically, part of the fabric of our society. The recorded U.S. COVID-19 death toll has now surpassed 100,000—a disparately high proportion of these deaths are Black and Indigenous Americans. As much of the country shelters in place, workers deemed as essential are overrepresented in communities of color, amplifying the risk of sickness and death from COVID-19, leading the Centers for Disease Control to outline this sociocultural clustering of health risks.  

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We are currently bearing witness through the news and social media to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, and George Floyd in Minneapolis—in addition to the recent “birding while black” incident in Central Park or the disproportionate policing of black and brown folks wearing protective masks or being cited for “inadequate social distancing.” For months, we have seen the racist and xenophobic treatment of people of Asian descent concerning the novel coronavirus. The cumulative effect of these and other lived realities of our colleagues, students, and friends of color must be named and recognized; we must see and understand the trauma and exhaustion being experienced in our PCC family.

Living and working within a multiracial community while valuing cross-cultural perspectives is what compels us to share this message. It is important to not fall into despair, which is difficult when the summit toward racial justice seems increasingly harder and steeper to climb. 

 “Racial Battle Fatigue” (Smith, 2003) refers to the psychophysiological impact on communities of color caused by the cumulative stress of having to confront and navigate the constant racial injustices made manifest in a white supremacist society—when the dominant culture of that society silences, minimizes, or ignores this trauma. There is little relief, especially given our work in a predominantly white institution in a predominantly white state.

Portland Community College’s commitment to equity, inclusion, and social justice means that we all must acknowledge our own participation in maintaining systems of oppression while working to challenge and dismantle these systems, within our own spheres of influence. In particular, we need our white faculty, staff, and students to embrace accountability and to engage in anti-racist praxis; our colleagues and students of color should not, must not, shoulder the burden of eradicating white supremacy. Our deep appreciation goes to all those white allies at the college who have been engaging in this anti-racist solidarity work.

And our heartfelt gratitude goes to our colleagues and students of color for showing up with courage and compassion—in the face of what seems like relentless assault. Engaging in radical self-care is an individual and collective practice of affirmation that is especially needed during times of tragedy and racial trauma.

As a reminder, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offers information, tele-health, resources and webinars to support our emotional well-being. EAP is available to all employees. Students are encouraged to connect with PCC Counseling, which provides a wide array of individual, group, and culturally-specific support in partnership with our student resource centers and in virtual modalities.

For more learning, professional development, and faculty development opportunities, we ask that you start by visiting and bookmarking the collection of resources on our COVID-19 website, which will continue to be updated while the college is operating remotely. Of particular relevance is our DEI resource list. A deeper reflection and resources specific to the topic of “Racial Battle Fatigue” is available in the “Woke @ Work” blog on Inside PCC.

As leaders of color, we remain dedicated to examining challenges within our consciousness and providing resources and opportunities to shift our culture toward equity and belonging. Portland Community College is transforming itself toward becoming a more equitable and inclusive organization, for all members of our community. The organizational changes that PCC began through YESS, and continues to engage through strategic planning and reorganization, is undergirded by our commitment to building a more equitable and just reality for everyone in our community, students, staff, faculty, as well as the surrounding people of the Greater Portland area. We need each and everyone of us to participate in this critical work in which everyone’s life and humanity is valued equally in our society.  

In Solidarity,

Mark Mitsui, President

Tricia Brand, Chief Diversity Officer