By Stella Vasileiadou,
Just as Nelson Mandela once said: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.“.
According to several studies globally conducted and especially in Australia, it was concluded that racism had crucial effects in youngsters’ mental health, including: ongoing feelings of sadness, anger, depression and marginalization, a constant fear of being verbally or physically attacked or having little or no trust in anybody apart from family members. These impacts can reduce people’s ability to work or study and to set and achieve their goals. Racism also affects people’s general well-being when they are denied equal access to jobs, services and education.
While many people claim having difficulties in understanding what racism really stands for, it can be identified as the circumstance when someone behaves in a different way to another person based on their culture, skin color, religion or even sexuality. For example, Jewish people have been persecuted: this is called anti-Semitism. It is no surprise either that some people are picked on because of their looks. Unfortunately, racism is felt by a lot of different groups.
Prejudice VS Racism
Nowadays, people tend to confuse the terms “prejudice” and “racism”. The truth is, although all racists are prejudiced, not all those who are prejudiced are racists.
In fact, prejudice is a “taught” way of thinking that affects behavior in a “milder” way. For example, a police officer with prejudice could be sure that a person of color would be more prone to crime than others. That belief would then have an impact on the actions of the officer, albeit in their subconscious. Prejudice still exists today even if it is no longer deemed acceptable within some systems and organizations.
Unlike prejudice, racism refers to discrimination against a certain group and is more obvious. A typical example of racism would be that of a store owner refusing to let people of a specific skin color go visit the restroom.
Can you actually be born a racist?
In order to answer this question, the first step should be to understand where racism comes from; according to May Ling Halim, associate professor of psychology at California State University, Long Beach, and Sarah Gaither, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, the answer relies on the fundamental psychological and cognitive functions that are responsible for viewing and categorizing human beings by color.
For instance, when we are 3 months old, we are able to distinguish faces by color, whereas at the age of 3 we are undoubtedly capable of understanding racial categories. What is important is to accept that this categorization is a normal part of life, and not a valid or actual reason for discrimination and bullying. Parents and family members in general are in fact responsible for any growth of racial and gender biases in children. Furthermore, according to May Ling Halim, since our first days as humans, we are grouping things and knowing where we belong in these groups. Nonetheless, we also have this motivation for self-esteem; we feel better when we see our group better than the others and when we feel good about ourselves, we also feel good about our team. This was an idea called “social identity theory” from Henri Tajfel, a Polish Jewish immigrant in Europe trying to make sense of World War II. This theory argues that “our sense of self is entirely based on our group memberships – this notion of “them” VS “us”, which develops a sense of belonging to our social world.”.
There are three key factors that promote racism: 1. οur experiences in life 2. οur interactions with people and 3. οur society. That is to say, for example, people born in families that think it ιs okay to be a racist and to hate people that are different, the odds are that they will also think that such behavior is acceptable, and the “right” choice. Or, if you happen to grow up in a society where you have advantages over people from other groups, this also could make you think you are better than others.
But, how can we deal with racism?
First of all, when you happen to hear racist attitudes, try to ask people for the reason behind their thinking and encourage them to consider alternatives, bearing in mind that the latter does not occur immediately. Patience is also essential. Significant results can only come when small steps are taken and by keeping consistency in our actions. Also, parents and teachers should teach acceptance of other races from a young age so that children grow up to be adults who understand that racism is an issue that needs to be constantly targeted for improvement. Last but not least, you could “promote” friendships across racial lines so that you can start seeing people as individuals rather than just as part of a race.
- Australian Human Rights Commission, Why are people racist?, Available here
- CNN, Children aren’t born racist. Here’s how parents can stop them from becoming racist, Available here
- VeryWellMind.com, The Psychology of Racism, Available here