3 Research Proven Strategies for Dealing with Racism

Racism is a murderer

Research has consistently revealed that exposure to racial discrimination has a destructive impact on the mental, physical and spiritual health of people of color.

Those of us on the receiving end of oppression often feel a sense of 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' when it comes to deciding how to confront this issue. By confronting racism one can be exposed to abuse, persecution, even death from those committed to upholding the existing power structure. In contrast, to say nothing is to actively participate in ones destruction. This stressful conflict is one of the reasons that daily exposure to racial oppression can be debilitating.

Given the above, what are the best strategies for coping with racism while maintaining health and well-being? Here are three research-proven methods for sustaining strong mental health while dealing with racial oppression.

Racial Identity Strengthening
Individuals with a strong sense of their racial self are literally comfortable in their skin and as a result experience less psychological trauma from exposure to racism. Such persons are also more likely to seek "community and/or legal resources" in confronting racism, as well as talk directly to those perpetuating racial oppression. Methods of seeking and sustaining a strong racial identity is through reading literature on systematic oppression, talking to experts on the topic, and internalizing messages and ideas which affirm anti-racism.

Mastery is described as "an individual's perception of their ability to control their environment". Mastery is not simply reaching the highest level of competency in ones chosen pursuits. It's an attitude about ones efficacy and belief in ones ability to conquer obstacles or barriers. I believe two ideas are likely at play here: the belief that no matter how much oppression one is exposed to, he/she can handle it. Also, the belief that ones efforts or pursuits of progression will not wane even in the face of dehumanization. Mastery has been shown to be protective against depressive symptoms for African Americans including those encountering discrimination.

Parental Messages
No group is more vulnerable to the negative repercussions associated with experiencing negative racial attitudes than children of color. I was devastated upon reading an article which reported that completed suicide rates of young Black children (ages 5-11) have increased. There is no question that systemic oppression plays a role in the mental health of Black Americans across age groups. Research dating back to the 1947 Clark and Clark doll studies revealed that young children are fully aware of the anti-Black messages initiated and reinforced within American society. Therefore any efforts to address the ubiquity of racism needs to begin with eradicating internalized racism experienced by Black children.

In this regard research has shown that parental messages of cultural pride alone reduced psychological distress in adolescent Blacks. Psychological distress is also reduced when messages of cultural pride are coupled with those promoting the idea of African American resources. Ideas consistent with cultural pride and African American resources include statements such as: "you should be proud to be Black"; "never be ashamed of your color"; and "you should know Black history".

It should be noted that individuals use a host of factors in coping with exposure to racial prejudice including: maximizing individual success, widening support circle and obtaining assistance from others, prayer, directly confronting perpetrator(s), exposure to an African-centered philosophy, avoiding individuals and situations known to engage in racism, denial, and rationalization (this list is not exhaustive).

I believe that no single response is effective all the time, for all persons, across situations. Determining how best to respond is a matter of matching personal strengths and coping resources with the context in which the racial slight occurred.