Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
Many wise people strongly believe that respect for the inherent worth and dignity of each member of the human family is the psychological foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. They believe we were all created by the same God and know that variations in the genome is very small at just 0.1% among all humans. Race is a construction, designed for a purpose. Just as race is a construction, so is racism. It’s learned behavior. Racism has is about thinking of oneself as different from other people. People who hold racists beliefs and behaviors see others as less than, and themselves as superior. Just as you have beliefs about everything- about poor people or immigrants, for example, you have to wonder where those beliefs began and how they are reinforced.
Racism is constructed and reinforced by the social environment in which we live; teaching from our families, the schools and churches we attend, and our neighbors.
Racism is a problem in the human family. Both active racism and passive acceptance of race-based thinking disrupt the mental health and psychological functioning of both victims and its perpetrators. And, racism is expensive both fiscally and psychologically. We put up fences, live in gated communities, lock our cars and hold our purses close when we see people who are different from ourselves. And while we’re doing that, our anxiety grows. The psychological toll racism takes on all people is measurable. People get depressed, fearful and anxious. It comes up physically with high blood pressure and heart disease. Those who are victims of racism are constantly on the look-out fearing someone or something will hurt them and their family members and/or put them at a disadvantage. Their fear may make them want to fight or flee.
Dr. Patricia Dass-Brailsford of Georgetown University believes that psychological and behavioral problems are expressions of pain and efforts to cope with unacceptable environmental demands.
According to Dr. Morgan T. Sammons, Ph.D, ABPP of the National Register of Health Services Providers, “We define “race” largely as a way of classifying people according to skin tone...” Since the early 19th century, in America, our obsession with race has been with proving the genetic, intellectual and social inferiority of African and native peoples. Before that, during the great waves of migration to America other groups from Italy, Eastern Europe, and Asia
So, in our society, most people have racial biases of which they may or may not be aware. With so much material to absorb, humans need to catagorize things in order to make sense of them. However, whether these unconscious biases develop into hateful beliefs and actions are also learned. People who are racist become more racist, when something they believe in is threatened.
Research from Social psychologists working in the field of attribution theory consistently showed the effects of perceptions based on skin pigmentation or other external characteristics. They remind us that even if “race” doesn’t exist as a genetic phenomenon, racism certainly is clearly linked to how we behave toward people. For instance, in the criminal justice system juries tend to assign blame and hand down the death penalty according to their perception of a particular group.
Dr. Gordon Allport, Ph.D. conducted a longstanding line of research that aimed to combat bias among conflicting groups. He called it contact hypothesis. He found that contact between members of different groups could assist in reducing prejudice and promote greater understanding between groups. Additional research suggest cooperation towards shared goals, equal status between groups, and the support of local authorities and cultural norms enhance the process. In other words, different groups can come together as part of one overarching community.
To help reduce the problem of racism in the human family,
Psychologists encourage each of us to do our part.
What’s A Person To Do?
1. The more you connect with people unlike yourself the more you’ll learn and the wiser you’ll be. Connection promotes identification with other people and the groups to which they belong. In other words, your relationships with other people become part of who you are. This is referred to as including the other in the self, a notion introduced by Stephen Wright, Arthur Aron and colleagues.
2. Refuse to utter or listen to the negative, simplistic and painful stereotypes we all know well. We’re less likely hold on to what is not constantly repeated. It’s nearly impossible to hold onto a simplistic, negative stereotype of someone you know well.
3. Examine your own thoughts and behaviors and determine if they are consistent with how you want to be thought of and treated as a member of the human family. Do your best to make the necessary changes in dealing with others.
(C))Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives in Tunica and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books she has written.