Race relations in the United States is a long-standing issue that can be traced back to the entry of Europeans in the colonial era, subsequent slavery of Africans, and post-slavery era characterized by segregation and discrimination by color. For a long time, the relationship between racism and psychological in the United States among minority groups such as Hispanics and African-Americans has attracted significant attention from scholars, with studies divided between those who find a correlation and those that do not. Among the African-Americans, the group that faces the highest incidences of racism, there exist overwhelming research to show that racism causes psychological problems.
How Racism Causes Psychological Problems
African-Americans face subtle and as well as open racist situations in their day-to-day life. For example, when an individual enters into a store and he or she is tracked on suspicion that he/she may steal since he/she is black, such events may bring about shame and fear in a person. Additionally, even when a racism incident is reported, it is common for individuals to be told that such an event would not have occurred if they were polite or dressed in a certain way. Such incidences lead to double jeopardy where the blames for a racist situation is burdened on the victim, while the perpetrator is never viewed as being in the wrong. Such incidences may be about shame and a feeling of not being trusted, which could lead to depression due to helplessness that accompanies such discrimination.
An example of a case that shows how discrimination can lead to psychological problems is cited by Carter and Forsyth where an African-American working in a store was mistreated by his boss (29). The victim was often disrespected, forced to do menial jobs, and sometimes required to track African-American customers to ensure that they were not stealing. Subsequently, the victim began to experience low self-esteem, anxiety, and feelings of humiliation. All these symptoms imply post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a psychological problem emerges from traumatic events, both physical and emotional. Indeed, a National Survey of American Life (NSAL) by Himle et al. found that 9.1% African-American compared to 6.8% of non-Hispanic Whites experiences PTSD (580). Such a finding shows a large disparity between the two groups, yet no specific explanation can be as to its existence.
In understanding psychological problems that face African-Americans, it is important to understand the impact of racism on the emotional and psychological health of victims. In the American culture, racism and racial barriers are everyday occurrences that minority groups face. Whether it is accessing justice, education, and other social services, racism is a common feature. However, much research has only focused on social, economic, and political impacts of racism on African-Americans. Despite its lack of recognition as a factor that may increase mental conditions among targeted groups, a study by Bryant-Davis and Ocampo found that perceived racial discrimination was linked to increased mental illnesses among minority groups, which implies that racism can lead to traumatic experiences that can lead to PTSD among other mental problems.
One of the major factors that have led to the lack of recognition of racism as a traumatic experience that can cause mental problems is the failure of DSM-IV to recognize varying circumstances under which racism may be traumatic. According to Carter, racism is only considered as traumatic if an occurrence causes physical harm to a person (48). On the contrary, minority groups experience subtle and rarely openly assaultive situations, which cumulatively cause a lot of trauma and emotional stress on an individual. Such classification the criteria of what can cause mental problems means that racism and its related occurrences are left out, and thus failing to recognize the gravity of the problem among the African-Americans.
How Psychological Effects of Racism may Manifest Themselves
The psychological effects of racism can manifest themselves in different ways among the affected. Firstly, an individual who has faced racism is highly guarded and defensive when interacting with perceived "oppressors." Such a situation means that the individuals have difficult, leading meaningful relations with other racial groups, especially with whites, who are viewed as the ones who perpetuate racism in the United States (Bryant-Davis and Ocampo 481). The second manifestation of psychological effects of racism is low self-esteem that characterizes individuals who have experience the vice. In this case, such persons have a difficult time standing up or airing their opinions in mixed groups where there are other racial groups, or even among African-American groups. The outcomes of low self-esteem is an inability to interact freely with others as a person often feels he/she is the odd one out or that he/she may make an "embarrassing" mistake that may expose his/her perceived unworthiness. Additionally, while individuals often seek to go to places or interact with people who accept or a similar to them racially or based on other criteria, such a tendency to seek similar people or shared placed with a group may implicate underlying trauma where a person strives to avoid groups or places associated with racism (Carter 59). In this case, meeting people or going to places where racism occurred may lead to "reliving the experience" which can cause trauma and emotional distress in a person. Among adolescents, emotional distress from racism may manifest itself through increased rebellion, open hatred towards whites, and unwillingness to go to school where racism could have occurred.
In essence, it is important to recognize the emotional consequences of racism that faces many African-Americans, as well as other minority groups in the United States. The high prevalence of mental problems among blacks as compared to whites cannot be explained in another way apart from the fact that racism has played a role in the discrepancy. Although few studies have focused on the link between racism and psychological problems among African-Americans, increasing research shows otherwise. For example, racism is linked to increased defensiveness and low self-esteem in victims. Additionally, it is linked to feelings of helplessness, especially when a person is blamed for racism, and the perpetrators remain free. On its manifestation, low self-esteem increased hatred towards perceived or real perpetrators of the vice, and avoiding placed linked to racism are some of the ways through which racism becomes evident. Among the adolescents, increased deviance and unwillingness to go to school are some of the ways that the effects of the vice reveal themselves. Overall, the impacts of racism on the psychological well-being among African-Americans are an issue that has not received the attention that it deserves. More research needs to be conducted on the problem to ensure that viable solutions can be found.
Bryant-Davis, Thema, and Carlota Ocampo. "Racist Incident-Based Trauma." Counselling Psychologist, vol. 33, 2005, pp. 479-500.
Carter, Robert T. "Racism and Psychological and Emotional Injury: Recognizing and Assessing Race-Based Traumatic Stress." The Counselling Psychologist, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 13-105.
Carter, Robert T., and Jessica M. Forsyth. "A Guide to the Forensic Assessment of Race-Based Traumatic Stress Reactions." J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, vol.37, pp.28-40.
Himle, Joseph A., et al. "Anxiety Disorders among African Americans, Blacks of Caribbean Descent, and Non-Hispanic Whites in the United States." Journal of Anxiety Disorders, vol. 23, no. 5, pp.578-590.
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