Background Racial and ethnic groups in the USA differ in the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent research however has not observed consistent racial/ethnic differences in posttraumatic stress in the early aftermath of trauma, suggesting that such differences in chronic PTSD rates may be related to differences in recovery over time. Methods As part of the multisite, longitudinal AURORA study, we investigated racial/ethnic differences in PTSD and related outcomes within 3 months after trauma. Participants (n = 930) were recruited from emergency departments across the USA and provided periodic (2 weeks, 8 weeks, and 3 months after trauma) self-report assessments of PTSD, depression, dissociation, anxiety, and resilience. Linear models were completed to investigate racial/ethnic differences in posttraumatic dysfunction with subsequent follow-up models assessing potential effects of prior life stressors. Results Racial/ethnic groups did not differ in symptoms over time; however, Black participants showed reduced posttraumatic depression and anxiety symptoms overall compared to Hispanic participants and White participants. Racial/ethnic differences were not attenuated after accounting for differences in sociodemographic factors. However, racial/ethnic differences in depression and anxiety were no longer significant after accounting for greater prior trauma exposure and childhood emotional abuse in White participants. Conclusions The present findings suggest prior differences in previous trauma exposure partially mediate the observed racial/ethnic differences in posttraumatic depression and anxiety symptoms following a recent trauma. Our findings further demonstrate that racial/ethnic groups show similar rates of symptom recovery over time. Future work utilizing longer time-scale data is needed to elucidate potential racial/ethnic differences in long-term symptom trajectories.