Black Life Matters!
A single cry of revolt for the unity of all. With a transnational dimension, this slogan born from a hashtag has been able to put the issue of racism back in the media spotlight. Condemning the revolting culture of opposition between “them” and “us”.
Whether on your social networks, in the street, reading your morning paper or from a friend, you’ve inevitably heard about this movement that has become political.
It all started in the United States in 2013, George Zimmerman is acquitted for his murder. The murder of a young man of 17 years, Trayvon Martin (1). An acquittal symbol of prejudice for all ethnic minorities in the world. Next to that, in France it was Adama Traoré who died in 2016 following his arrest by the police. These inequities have caused one of the most powerful movements in the world to emerge, a humanist movement for equality.
Most definitions agree on defining racism as differential treatment based on ethnicity (2).
According to the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, the tolerance score is around 66 out of 100 (100 being the highest index) in France (3). Thus, although this score is quite good, it shows that gaps remain and that the fight continues.
So, what impact can racism have on our mental health?
Discrimination is necessarily harmful, you might say, but how can it harm its victims?
Impact on mental health:
Racial discrimination begins very early in an individual’s life, whether directly, or indirectly through the perceived experience of peers. This can have a considerable impact on the child or adolescent.
- A multitude of works have first insisted on the biological impacts of repeated acts of discrimination, making racism a real nest of pathologies, including for example: diabetes, obesity or infections. Indeed, real or perceived racism increases the level of cortisol in the body (4). This abnormally high level will also affect the mental health of the individual, leading to stress, anxiety and depression.
- This is not all, as other research has shown that perceptions of racism are associated with anger, conduct problems and delinquent behavior in adolescents and pre-adolescents (5) (2). Thus, a “don’t leave your bag open, there’s an Arab here” from a classmate can be a real activator of violent behavior.
- Once an adult, the consequences of racism do not stop, as they have become a constant in the victim’s life. Whether it is during the pursuit of his or her studies or at the beginning of his or her career, an individual from an ethnic minority will, in spite of himself or herself, have to face repeated discriminatory encounters with colleagues or students, encounters that exacerbate the feeling of exclusion and hyper vigilance. A “you’re not black for nothing” following a small mistake, “it’s nice that you’re studying, it’s not common for someone like you”, or “you’re bad at math for a Chinese person” can prove to be very hurtful remarks. These experiences will drain the respondents’ physical and mental energies. According to Harvey Wingfield, they do a lot of emotional work, resulting in “racial battle fatigue” (4). Thus, it is undeniable that these after-effects are likely to hinder the career progression of any individual.
- Unfortunately, there is more to it than that. The catalyst of discrimination creates a new psychological burden through a process called “epigenetics. Coined by geneticist and biologist Conrad Hal Waddington, this term refers to the inscription in a gene of any experience of prejudice or traumatic experience, and its transmission to one’s descendants (6). Thus, the personal experience of the parents of an individual from an ethnic minority is likely to be transmitted through a candidate gene and thus to be a facilitating factor in the emergence of the disease (7).
One thing is clear: racism is formidable.
It is clear that the impacts are multiple and important, but is it possible to mitigate them?
Tips to combat racism and its toxic effects:
- Start by developing self-compassion: give yourself time and space to be aware of your emotions. This means giving yourself the gift of a moment with yourself each day to ground yourself in the present moment and be able to feel your emotions and be fully aware of them.
- Communication: Studies have shown that talking to others about racism is a common coping strategy (8). Connecting with others has been shown to be associated with greater well-being among minorities.
- Identity building: Having a true knowledge of one’s identity and ethnic background. And above all, be aware of the existence of implicit biases (9). This is the set of attitudes we have towards people or the stereotypes we associate with them in an unconscious way. Although we are in a minority, we may be victims of these unconscious biases ourselves.
- Awareness: Talking about racism with others is both a way to learn more about ourselves and a way to raise awareness about racism among individuals who do not experience it on a daily basis and therefore do not fully appreciate the real impact it can have on our mental health.
- Remember that we have the right to communicate our dissatisfaction in the case of discrimination: Racist encounters are very difficult to handle. They can bring out a wide range of negative feelings in us. And it is everyone’s right to defend themselves in the event of such an experience. It is therefore important to communicate with clear, firm and precise words without resorting to violence or malice.
Arundhati Roy, an Indian writer and activist, once said, “We will not make a different world with indifferent people. It is on these words of wisdom that I invite you to adhere to a philosophy of African origin, that of Ubuntu, whose principle as simple as it is beautiful is to destroy the walls that separate humans from their neighbors and thus from their own humanity.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION :
1- A black individual is more likely to be diagnosed as schizophrenic than a white individual (9).
2- Ethno-psychopharmacology is a science that adapts to the genetic material of an individual in order to treat it. It has become particularly important in North America over the last fifteen years (11).
3- A black patient is twice as likely to be assisted by the police in his or her journey to care, compared to a white patient (12).
- Anderson-Carpenter, K.D. Black Lives Matter Principles as an Africentric Approach to Improving Black American Health. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities(2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-020-00845-0
- Priest N, Paradies Y, Trenerry B, et al. A systematic review of studies examining the relationship between reported racism and health and wellbeing for children and young people. Soc Sci Med 2013;95:115-27. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.11.031
- Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme. (2019, juin). LA LUTTE CONTRE LE RACISME, L’ANTISÉMITISME ET LA XÉNOPHOBIE (29). La documentation Française. Consulté à l’adresse https://www.cncdh.fr/sites/default/files/rapport_racisme_-_v_definitive_08_06_2020.pdf
- Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, Sep 25, 2020.
- Pachter, L. M., & Coll, C. G. (2009). Racism and child health: a review of the literature and future directions. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP, 30(3), 255–263. https://doi.org/10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181a7ed5a
- Dubois, M., Guaspare, C. & Louvel, S. (2018). De la génétique à l’épigénétique : une révolution « post-génomique » à l’usage des sociologues. Revue française de sociologie, vol. 59(1), 71-98. https://doi-org.sirius.parisdescartes.fr/10.3917/rfs.591.0071
- Heard-Garris, N. J., Cale, M., Camaj, L., Hamati, M. C., & Dominguez, T. P. (2018). Transmitting Trauma : A systematic review of vicarious racism and child health. Social Science & Medicine, 199, 230‑240. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.04.018
- Brondolo, E., Brady ver Halen, N., Pencille, M., Beatty, D., & Contrada, R. J. (2009). Coping with racism : a selective review of the literature and a theoretical and methodological critique. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 32(1), 64‑88. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-008-9193-0
- Dambrun, M., & Guimond, S. (2003). Les mesures implicites et explicites des préjugés et leur relation: Développements récents et perspectives théoriques [Implicit and explicit measures of prejudices and their relationship current developments and theorical perspectives]. Cahiers Internationaux de Psychologie Sociale, 57,52–73.
- Bhui K, Ullrich S, Coid JW. Which pathways to psychiatric care lead to earlier treatment and a shorter duration of first-episode psychosis? BMC Psychiatry 2014;14:72. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-14-72 [published Online First: 2014/03/14
- De Plaën, S. (2008). Racisme et science aujourd’hui : vers une nouvelle biologisation de la différence ?. L’Autre, volume 9(3), 373-379. https://doi-org.sirius.parisdescartes.fr/10.3917/lautr.027.0373
- Anderson KK, Flora N, Archie S, et al. A meta-analysis of ethnic differences in pathways to care at the first episode of psychosis. Acta Psychiatr Scand 2014;130(4):257-68. doi: 10.1111/acps.12254 [published Online First: 2014/03/04]