Research has demonstrated that racism has a negative impact on the mental health of people of color leading to feelings of isolation, anger, depression and lower self-esteem. It goes without saying that this avoidable phenomenon needs to continue to be addressed on both the individual and societal levels.
Discrimination in its many forms can be damaging to anyone and the more one experiences these prejudicial behaviors, the more difficult it can be to bounce back from its effects. While I want to be clear that those in power who create systems of racism and discrimination should be the ones dismantling them, I also want to offer some practical suggestions on coping with the effects of racism.
With the election (and re-election) of President Obama and the 2013 killing of Trayvon Martin and more recently the killings of Eric Gardner and Mike Brown, the United States has experienced a resurgence of tense racial relations. At best, conversations have become increasingly difficult between groups while at worst, young men and women of color are losing their lives in racially charged incidents.
Here are some basic suggestions that you, as a person of color, might use to help cope with the effects of racism:
Find solace where you feel the most comfortable
As the old saying goes, there is strength in numbers. Getting support from those who you know are sympathetic to your experiences can be extremely helpful in managing the anger and frustration of having experienced discrimination. You can reach out to friends, family members or other loved ones for consistent emotional support. You may also want to consider joining a local social or activism group (such as a local chapter of the NAACP) where you can receive support and participate in anti-racism efforts. Churches and religious institutions have historically been involved in anti-racism efforts so you may also find support and fellowship in those venues as well.
Use your voice
Experiencing discrimination in any form can be extremely isolating and racism can leave you feeling particularly marginalized given the belief by many Americans that racism no longer exists. In the moment, use your voice to call out racism whether it’s when you’re among friends, family members or colleagues. Take special care to evaluate the risks and benefits of confronting racism with some folks and strangers as your personal safety might also be at risk.
Join the movement
There are a significant portion of people in the United States, and in the world for that matter, that recognize that racism is still an everyday experience for many folks. Consider joining a local social justice group that addresses the impact of racism. Using your voice and personal experience to fight against bias can be a very empowering experience for you and you will also help prevent others from the feelings of isolation and humiliation that you may have experienced.
It is an unfortunate reality that racism still exists and affects the lives of many people around the United States and the world. It has been noted that experiencing racism can lead to feelings of self-doubt, anger, frustration, humiliation and isolation.
If you have experienced racism, the suggestions mentioned in this article might help manage those effects. If you still have difficulty with your experiences and feel that your difficulties warrant more individualized attention you may want to contact me directly or another local therapist for ongoing emotional support.