A guest blog by the Black Students Mental Health Project at London South Bank University (LSBU).This blog explains how racism can affect feelings of inferiority, hopelessness and low self-esteem and is a considerable mental health risk for the black community.
“When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro
Racism is embedded in the fabric of British society and continues to be a considerable mental health risk factor for the black community. This is because racism is an organising structure of individual perceptions and personal experiences, which means that marginalised community members are constantly encountering racism on systemic, institutional and interpersonal levels. This can mean that, when racism is not named and properly processed, it may lead to the racist beliefs about marginalised communities, including the community a person belongs to, becoming internalised.
When racism is internalised, the person accepts the negative attitudes, beliefs, stereotypes and ideologies that the dominant society perpetuates about the marginalised racial group. The power that the dominant group holds in society enables them to determine what is correct, acceptable or normal. Any deviation from this standard is therefore labelled as incorrect, unacceptable and/or abnormal.
In addition, internalised racist beliefs can become psychologically toxic and may evoke negative emotions which can lead to the onset of mental health conditions, such as depression. Internalised oppression is linked to feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem, self-doubt, helplessness and hopelessness. It is also implicated in the self-perpetuation of oppression and an anti-black bias.
Internalised oppression can emerge over time and may elicit denial and a sense of powerlessness. Some research suggests that internalised racism occurs through the shame and the humiliation that occurs when the self is repeatedly devalued. It should be noted that depression linked to racism could be suppressed rage. It might also be expressed through obesity, addictions, high blood pressure, stress or domestic violence.
Understanding stereotypes and the role they play in hampering thinking capacity is important when exploring racism. Stereotypes are thinking shortcuts that we all use to sort or organise objects in our social environment. These can be particularly helpful in pressurised environments as they reduce the amount of brain power we need to process the things we encounter and help us to respond with speed.
The problem with stereotypes is that they are generalisations and therefore do not take into consideration all of the available information. As such, they can often be linked to negative outcomes for the individuals or groups associated with them. There has been a considerable amount of research indicating that being conscious of a negative stereotype which relates to a specific aspect of your identity can lead to poor or underperformance.
As such, it is important to explore whether you have internalised negative stereotypes which result in internalised oppression and racism. You can begin to do this by asking yourself about how you have been racially socialised.
This blog was written as part of the Office for Students (OfS) Black Students Mental Health Project at London South Bank University. Check out the full range of wellbeing resources available on the Good Thinking website.
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