Psych and Change

June 28, 2020

Racism has been called “the new virus” and I couldn’t agree more. Often underestimated, it can manifest into something vile before people even realize it. Before the death of George Floyd, Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, or even before Rosa Parks’ arrest, people have always been racist and it is still very much prevalent in today’s society. 


It is incredibly important to recognize that certain people still believe that a particular race is superior to another, even today. Some individuals still think that it is okay to use racial slurs that can deeply offend a person of color. In fact, some believe that it is acceptable to make “jokes” at the expense of someone else’s personal identity. Unfortunately, these situations occur in schools, workplaces, domestic households, the media, and even the government. If this claim seems unreasonable or unbelievable, just know that the US Department of Education reported that a black student is 3 times more likely to receive serious punishment such as expulsion compared to a fellow white peer despite breaking the same rules. 


Also, with regard to workplace racism, many cast members of the popular musical TV series Glee have spoken up about actress Lea Michele’s microaggressions towards her colleagues who were of different races (the majority of them being black). Although these examples may seem insignificant, it is the people’s duty to realize that racism isn’t just the murder of an innocent black man, it is the discrimination of another person’s race. In reality, it doesn’t matter how “big” or “small” the issue is – what matters is the fact that race-related prejudice still exists around the world today. 


Since a significant amount of people would not consider themselves to be racists, what exactly creates a racist mindset? There are many psychological ways in which racism is manifested from one’s surroundings or inner beliefs. One of the most common causes is the acceptance of racism itself. As presented by an experiment in 1952 conducted by Ralph D. Minard, there is a clear trend where people often conform to social norms that have been set by the majority. For example, if you find yourself surrounded by a large group of people who discriminate against a certain race, you will most likely follow their footsteps and echo their beliefs, even if you don’t completely agree with them. 


This is directly linked to research that suggests that racism is essentially an accumulation of external influences. Babies are not born to be racist so it makes sense that their eventual beliefs are naturally influenced and shaped by their parents, peers, teachers, bosses, and even the media. For instance, if you grew up being told that broccoli tastes gross, you will most likely accept this idea even if you have never tasted broccoli. Essentially, everything that people believe in and pass on to others originate from initial influences. 


That being said, another cause of racism, especially internalised racism, is dissatisfaction with your own race. We have all heard the saying that bullies only bully others because they are unhappy. This can also be applied to racists (a.k.a. bullies) since they constantly need to justify that their race is “superior” to another. People who are overly insecure about something that they have no control over, often try to find ways to belittle others so that they reciprocate their insecurities.  


In order to break this never-ending cycle of negative influences and twisted minds, the cultural attitude towards racism must change. People have to learn to feel uncomfortable with racism. Acceptance and ignorance is negligence, which leads to mass destruction. Realizing the issue at hand is a key step that is much easier said than done. It can be difficult to acknowledge such perverse ideologies such as racism or prejudice in established settings or intimate friend groups. 


Although the line between racism and “jokes” might seem blurry, dig deeper to see the disrespect that is hidden beneath the layer of immature excuses. Confront people who don’t do this. Talk to your parents and peers about your experiences with racism that have either directly or indirectly affected you. It is a huge privilege to have the chance to talk about it instead of experiencing it firsthand. In institutions and workplaces, urge for more education and awareness regarding modern issues that deal with unjust treatment towards marginalized groups certain groups of people.  


Teach each and every person that racism is completely unacceptable and that a decent person would never even consider asking for the “N-word pass”. As people who do not need to feel ashamed of about the colour of their skin, use your privilege to learn about the effects of racism on people who experience it daily. It is imperative to understand the trauma and violence that certain people of certain races face every single day. Combat racism (and other harmful beliefs that violate basic human rights) in the public eye because people like Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and MLK Jr did not fight for their lives just for us to accept and justify racism in 2020. 

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