Everyone walks through life a little differently, no matter how similar their circumstances may appear. For many people, racism is a significant part of everyday life. It crops up in seemingly mundane interactions and rears its ugly head in unexpected places. As with any consistent presence, racism has a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of millions of individuals.
La’Tesha Sampson wears many hats; from licensed clinical social worker, to entrepreneur, to philanthropist, to volunteer, La’Tesha does it all. She is the CEO and Founder of Great Joy Counseling and Consulting Services, where she leads a team of therapists working with individuals, couples, and families. For over two decades, La’Tesha has been serving disenfranchised communities through her professional and philanthropic ventures. Despite her achievements, she too experiences everyday racism. As a woman in power and an educated social worker, La’Tesha knows that even small acts of racism have a huge impact.
Racism Is a Source of Trauma
“Racism is an unacceptable yet ubiquitous source of trauma,” she explains. “It leaves racialized people questioning their self-worth and even their own realities.” Acts of racism suggest to racialized people that they are lesser in some essential way that they cannot control. As if that were not painful and traumatic enough, the effect is compounded by a cultural trend that dismisses the pain of those on the receiving end. It was just a joke, it is not a big deal, or it happens all the time. These may sound like excuses, but they are key indicators that there is a real cultural and societal problem when it comes to everyday racism. They shift the responsibility from the attacker to the attacked in a way that is so common and so frequent that the victim begins to wonder if the slurs they encounter are true — if they really are lesser than because of the color of their skin.
Racism is common yet unpredictable. You never know when it will surface or how. “The repeated exposure to the trauma of racism exacerbates its effect,” says La’Tesha. “Stress, low self-esteem, and anxiety are common and can lead to more complicated issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, high blood pressure, increased risk for disease, and more.” If left unchecked, the effects of racism on mental health can be severe.
The status quo needs to change when it comes to racism and the world has seen some movement on this front as of late. Black Lives Matter is on more people’s lips and the injustices faced by racialized communities are receiving more attention on news platforms and in politics. When it comes to acts of everyday racism; however, larger movements are not enough to protect individuals in the moment. “If you experience or witness racism, call it out,” La’Tesha advises. “Give it a name and say that it’s not okay.” For many victims, this simple act of calling racism what it is prevents them from later questioning their reality. Particularly as a witness, it’s important to let victims know they are not alone by acknowledging their trauma.
The Bottom Line
It can be easy to misconstrue a reaction to racism as explosive or more intense than is called for. But, the truth is that calling racism out is not an overreaction because racism is too prevalent, too traumatic, and too impactful to diminish. It is not just a joke. It is not no big deal. Racism has a tangible negative effect on the mental and physical health of the individuals that endure it on a regular basis.
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