The effect of racism on your mental health and behaviour
The effect of racism on your mental health and behaviour

What is racism?

The belief, assumption or idea that there are differences between human races and that people can be categorized according to this. This can lead to discriminatory systems in which one “race” is treated differently by another “race”.

Racism can manifest itself in several ways: this can be with overt forms of racism where someone is verbally abused, physically attacked or even killed because of their ethnicity. It can also be in the form of subtle belittling (consciously or subconsciously), which causes a certain group to be disadvantaged. For example, by assuming that a certain group of people are inferior, or by being surprised when someone with a different skin color other than yourself speaks good Dutch. Other examples can be when someone makes animal noises at someone from another race, individuals not being accepted on the basis of their ethnicity, a bystander holding his bag close to him due to fear for someone from another race or being followed by security while shopping because they don’t trust certain ethnicities: there are many different forms of racism. From very clear to subtle, and from conscious to subconscious.

Discrimination and Depression

A number of studies show that racism has a long-term negative impact on mental health. A study by Umar Ikram showed that ethnic minorities in the Netherlands experience a lot of discrimination based on their ethnicity and also have a higher risk of experiencing psychological complaints. The most common statements they identified with for example were: “People behave as if they are better than me,” or “People act as if they are smarter than me.” This perceived discrimination also promoted the feeling that “Society does not want me”. Therefore, these feelings not only arise with clear and obvious discrimination, but also with more subtle and subconscious racism. Ikram’s research showed that there was a clear relationship between perceived discrimination and feelings of depression.

It is important to further investigate the exact link between discrimination and depression; American studies have also shown that discrimination based on ethnicity often preceded depression. Racism can have a profound effect causing people to withdraw from society and become isolated.

Self Fulfilling Prophecy

A Self Fulfilling Prophecy is when a behavior is predicted or expected, which in turn, ultimately leads to the predicted / expected behavior happening. Psychologist Rosenthal, for example, gave children intelligence tests and falsified the results. The children who were given a good grade (chosen at random) in turn also achieved better school results. This was because teachers (subconsciously) paid more attention to the smart students, judging them as more positive and, as a result, the children also performed better.

The Self Fulfilling Prophecy and Racism

Racism can therefore be expressed very clearly, but also very subtly in everyday life. Dylan Glover conducted research using data from a large supermarket chain in France. It compared the productivity of two groups of supermarket employees: minorities versus non-minorities.

Less productive in this case could mean being slower at scanning products, taking more time between customers, being late to work, or finishing early. It also looked at the manager’s bias score. By bias score we mean to what extent a manager associates minorities with less productivity, and vice versa. A higher score meant that they were more inclined to associate less productivity with minorities. A bias in this case is a prejudice.

With the help of a psychological task (Implicit Association Task) these scores were decreased. For example, do you associate the word “lazy” with certain ethnicities? Thus, with this task these associations were investigated. This study found that minorities were less productive when led by a manager with a high bias score. This is where the Self Fulfilling Prophecy comes into play: because of their bias, they were expected to be less productive. As a result, these managers spent less time on this group of supermarket employees: they were given different tasks, less attention, and less trust, and consequently they were ultimately less productive.

How you are treated determines your behavior

What happened was that “biased” managers had less interaction with minorities, less attention to the efforts of these employees, and assigned less customer-oriented tasks to them. This is also called aversive racism: racism without conscious intention. Ethnic minorities were more productive with managers with a low bias score, who treated ethnic minorities and non-minorities equally.

All in all, discrimination or racism affects how you feel and how you behave: when you are discriminated against, you behave differently, whether discrimination takes place consciously or subconsciously.

Would you like to learn more about this subject? With the help of this blog you will get more tools and ideas on how to familiarize yourself with the complex subject of racism.

Discrimination and racism therefore have an effect on people’s (mental) health. It is also important to remember that talking about your experiences can help. Would you like to do this with a professional? Go to your doctor for a referral or get in touch with the NiceDay Team, we are happy to help you.

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Sarah Goslinga

My name is Sarah Goslinga, psychologist and coach at NiceDay. It's important to me that you have a real connection with your coach and that you feel you can discuss anything. In my spare time I'm busy with producing music.

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