The term ‘race’ or ‘racial group’ refers to the idea of human beings being grouped in terms of having similar physical, behavioural and cultural characteristics.
We generally refer to race in terms of colour or origin. Racism is when an individual is treated unfairly, judged or subjected to abuse on the basis of their race. It exists in many forms and in many different ways. This can be on an individual basis, or across society as a whole. The effect on the person experiencing the racism can be debilitating and devastating.
What is Racism?
Racism includes acts of prejudice, oppression and discrimination towards other races. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which began as early as the 15th century, introduced a system of slavery that was commercialised, racialised and inherited. Due to this, racism has become so engrained in our society and history. Although we now live in a world where slavery has been abolished, the pain caused will reverberate through generations.
It is important to understand how much damage this history has caused for race relations. These hierarchical structures have defined people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds as ‘different’ or ‘other’. Whilst at the same time, has worked to benefit white people with an undeniable privilege. These power structures have led to institutionalised racism, and this is an issue that is still systemic.
On the 25th of May 2020, a white police officer murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis. The footage of Mr. Floyd being suffocated to death spread to every corner of the world. This was the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement to protest the systemic racism upon which our society has become defined. His murder has lifted the veil on racism.
This has caused unspeakable pain, anxiety and overwhelm for all black people fighting for real and meaningful change.
What does Racism look like?
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” However, this is a simplified explanation of a complex issue.
There are many ways in which racism presents itself:
Interpersonal racism: this is where a person treats another person poorly or unfairly due to their race.
Overt racism: this is where a person is abused, attacked, bullied, threatened or excluded.
Covert racism: this is more subtle form and can be harder to identify and challenge. This comes from an unintentional bias where racial stereotypes for internalised racist beliefs. The aggressor may not even be aware of their racist attitude, it can have a pervasive impact on the victim.
Microaggressions: these are “everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people.” In terms of race, this can be things like “where are you really from” or “you’re the whitest black person I know” etc.
Research has shown that microaggressions, although they are seemingly small offences, can take a real psychological toll on the mental health of their recipients. This toll can lead to anger and depression and can even lower work productivity and problem-solving abilities.
Institutional racism: this is where an organisation or institution treats a person unfairly due to their race. This may include schools and universities, health systems and areas of criminal justice.
How racism can affect a person?
An individual experiencing racism can find the experience frightening, worrying and traumatic. In many cases, this can trigger anxiety, depression and chronic stress.
Racism can cause an individual to experience mental health problems and in some circumstances lead to ‘internalised racism’. Internalised racism is a form of internalised oppression. In many instances, the victim may have negative views about themselves because of their race. The individual may feel pressure to change or hide parts of their identity.
How can counselling help?
A person who is struggling with the effects of lived racism may find it beneficial to talk to a counsellor. Our counsellors will be able to offer the individual a safe space in which to share their experiences. Moreover, they are encouraged to talk about how the experiences make them feel, and to discuss the impact on their mental health.
Our counsellors will be able to advise on coping mechanisms and tools to deal with their mental health concerns.
A counsellor may be able to assist an individual who has experienced racism by:
- Offering the individual reassurance and support
- Helping them to practice self-care techniques
- Building resilience
- Helping them to explore or reconnect with their identity
- Boosting self-esteem and promoting confidence
- Helping to manage anxieties, feelings of sadness, stress and depression.
Here at Hope Therapy we have a team of fully-trained therapists. They are able to provide the support and guidance needed to help any individual deal with the effects of being a victim of racism. Our friendly and professional staff will help them to process their emotions, develop skills to manage any mental health difficulties, and help that person to enhance the quality of their life.
For more information or to book a counselling session, please get in touch today.
Owner and lead counsellor of Hope Therapy & Counselling Services. Ian draws upon various approaches including CBT, Person-Centred Counselling and Mindfulness.
To book a session with Ian or one of the Hope Team, just get in touch.