Race is the social concept of a portion of the human population distinguished by a variety of factors, including physical characteristics, language, ancestry, or a common history. The term can also be applied loosely to ethnic, national, or religious groups, depending on the context.
In many countries, racial categories are based on culturally defined distinctions rather than biological ones. However, these are still important in terms of discrimination and a social stigmatization of people who share certain racial attributes (Montague, 1942).
The concept of race is often rooted in racial prejudice that disproportionately fuels social exclusion, discrimination, and violence against those from different races or ethnicities. These social biases, which are often manifested in hierarchies that privilege people with white skin over those with darker skin colors, can lead to a variety of psychological effects, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, heart disease, skin rashes, and gastrointestinal problems.
Racism is not an inherent part of the human species but an acquired characteristic that affects individual experiences and outcomes. It is a social construction and can influence the way people think, feel, and act (Thomits, 2007).
Racial identity and the role-identity framework explain why individuals with high racial/ethnic identity tend to be more likely to experience racial discrimination than those who have lower racial/ethnic identity. This is because people with high racial/ethnic identities put more value on their racial/ethnic backgrounds than those with low racial/ethnic identity.
There are a variety of reasons why this happens. One is that racial discrimination may cause a person to feel ashamed or guilty about their racial background, which can in turn exacerbate other identity-relevant stressors such as anxiety, depression, or stress related to work.
Another reason why this happens is that racial discrimination can lead to the devaluing of one’s racial/ethnic background, which can cause negative emotions and other mental health issues (Omi & Winant, 2014). These emotional and mental health impacts can be particularly devastating for people who are not only discriminated against but also have strong racial/ethnic identities.
It’s important for psychologists to consider how their clients’ self-concepts and beliefs about their racial/ethnic heritage impact their experience of racism. A growing body of evidence indicates that those who are discriminated against are more likely to report a range of physical and mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and skin rashes.
This can have significant impacts on the quality of life, happiness, and even lifespan for those who are discriminated against. In addition, it can increase the likelihood that a person will suffer from mental health conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or experience premature death (Bonnion et al., 2015).
Despite a growing body of research that shows how the persistence of racial discrimination can negatively affect mental and physical health, it’s not clear that we understand the psychological impact of racism on people’s lives. We need to do more research, including more in-depth studies of the psychological effects of racism on people’s racial/ethnic backgrounds, to help us better understand how racial discrimination can affect individuals’ well-being and how professionals can work with their clients to overcome these challenges.