THE EFFECTS OF RACISM ON MENTAL HEALTH
There’s a debate going on across the world on the sensitive topic of racism. While we have strict laws against it, racism still breeds in our society in the form of casual racism. The casual racist jokes that make 25% of the stand-up comedy content which are verbal hurtful statements may be passed without an intention of hurting any race or minority group and be considered okay as ‘it’s a joke’.
It’s intent may have been humour, but let’s be clear: that can impact targeted person/community’s mental health and hence definitely ’it’s not funny’.
Casual name calling or catcalling is prevailing in our society which may not look offending on the surface but is slowly knocking victims’ confidence down every time and breeding the fear of racism.
Let’s have a look upon what does race and racism means to better understand the everyday casual racism that goes around us.
Griffin and his colleagues (1997) define race as ‘A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on certain characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification... Racial categories subsume ethnic groups.’
Oxford dictionary defines racism as ‘Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior’.
Casual racism is one type of racism. It refers to demeanor comprising of off-putting, upsetting and negative stereotypes or prejudices concerning people on the grounds of race, color or ethnicity that goes unnoticed in everyday life. It is normalized in our society. Harmless but racially-insensitive jokes, name calling, off-handed comments, school and office bullies, minor incivilities, and stigmatization on the basis of race are few examples to mention.
Casual racism can marginalize, denigrate or humiliate those who are on the receiving end, and drastically impact their mental health.
• It can affect one’s positive self-identity and make them feel vulnerable about themselves by giving birth to self-blame and self- doubt.
• It can slowly shatter individual’s confidence, piece by piece and leave them with the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.
• Evidence suggests that racism often leaves the victim with depression, social anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
• People who suffer racial discrimination often go through prolonged periods of adjustment, prolonged grief and face difficulty adapting to certain environment.
• One can develop unresolved anger issues, frustration and in serious cases psychosis when one involves in substance misuse and hallucinates about the discriminatory statements.
• Evidence also suggests that racism results in high-blood pressure, heart disease and muscle tension.
• With rising everyday racism, people may develop fear of becoming a victim and the prolonged fear will develop into chronic-stress affecting the coming generation.
• The fear will further undermine resilience, hope and motivation of the racially marginalized people.
It is very important to build a greater belief that all humans are equal. People’s backgrounds do contribute to individual differences but it is morally unjust to discriminate against people or hold prejudiced beliefs based on race.
Empathize with people affected by everyday racism; hear about their everyday stories of struggles. Speak up against casual racism, jokes maybe unintentional but if it’s impacting one’s health, remember: ‘it’s not funny’. Keep the discussion going, talk on a more regular basis about casual racism and how can it affect one’s health and society as a whole, and de-normalize it.
If you are on the receiving end then develop resilience and positive identity in the first place. Take strategic social actions of documenting your experience. Develop positive beliefs, confide with your friends or spiritual leaders. Build a support network with others and develop emotional intelligence to work upon yours and others negative emotions that are the outcome of everyday racism.
Remember ‘we all bleed the same color’. And ‘tolerating racism is racism too’ similarly as staying silent about a crime is a crime.