Discrimination. Many of us are exposed to it every day, and the effects can be devastating.
The gender pay gap devalues women and their work to only 78 cents on the dollar as compared to men. Many people don't realize, let alone discuss, the fact that Native Americans get shot by police more than any other group. And even as we make strides towards LGBT equality, organizations like the Boy Scouts of America still permit discrimination and hate crimes against transgender people is on the rise, up 13 percent in the last year.
These are all expressions of institutionalized discrimination, and it's been shown by scientific research to wreak havoc in the personal and professional lives of the average American citizen.
Studies have shown that gender discrimination is associated with increased risk for drug abuse and is a critical factor in determining women's health. Homophobia puts LGBT people at significantly greater risk for depression, anxiety, drug abuse, and suicide. Racism has also been shown to increase blood pressure and mortality.
Mental and physical health effects are compounded for those who experience multiple forms of discrimination. They also result in increased risk of absences from work, increased rates of employment termination, and cost our national economy untold millions of dollars.
Whether you're on the front lines of a social movement or struggling with discrimination in your daily life, it can be difficult to survive, let alone find your way forward. Here are five important tips to help you in your journey:
1. Embrace Your Beauty and Strength. Find ways to embrace and celebrate your identity--the strength and beauty of you being you. Read books, talk to people, and go to identity-affirming events. Call upon trusted friends and relatives, people with a healthy sense of self, for support. Also consider seeking the help of a trained professional in your area to create solutions custom-fit to your particular situation and needs.
2. Take Good Care of Yourself and Learn to Cope. One of the best ways you can fight discrimination is by taking good care of yourself. Your survival is not just important; it's an act of revolution. Make your life revolutionary by exercising, eating healthy, and finding ways to de-stress every day.
3. Stand Up For Yourself. Let others know how their words and actions have affected you and those you care about. Fight for your rights. In order to effect change, people need to be made aware that a problem exists. Contact your elected representatives, the ACLU, and the Office for Civil Rights. The more people who can see the real life impact and injustice of what's happening, the more we can fight to end discrimination once and for all.
4. Strategize and Know the Consequences Before You Act. There truly is a time for daring and a time for caution, and an intelligent person knows the difference. Weigh the costs and benefits and decide for yourself what you're able, and willing, to do. Take stock of yourself. Capitalize on your strengths, and put a plan in motion to compensate for your weaknesses. Do your best to protect yourself and others and to minimize risk. Timing is critical. Strategize carefully to achieve maximum impact.
5. Reach Out and Organize. Don't go it alone. People really are stronger, and safer, when they stand together. Mobilize your friends, family, and co-workers. We're stronger when we stand together, share our stories, and make our voices heard. Uniting with others who face a similar situation as you do can help you obtain the resources and social support you need to survive. They can even give you a base to mobilize should you decide to organize and fight for your rights.
DaShanne Stokes is an author, speaker, commentator, and civil rights activist.