• Montriel V. Jamari

A Discussion on Racism and Its Impact on the Individual and Family

Updated: Mar 6, 2018

The origins of racism can be quite complex and has many facets to it. Some scholars suggest that

racism is a derivative that goes back to colonial rule and imperialism. Some believe that it predates a lot further back. Racism by nature seems to have a dual personality. At times it can be elusive and subtle at other times is can be obvious. Never the less, many have fallen victim to its psychological and physical effects. We can all agree that racism expresses itself in many different forms but it all stems from the overall theme of supremacy and dominance over a group of people. Clark and colleagues define racism as “Beliefs, attitudes, institutional arrangements, and acts that tend to denigrate individuals or groups because of phenotypic characteristics or ethnic group affiliation: (Clark, et al., 1999, p 805).

There are two general types of racism. Inter group racism is the racism that is between two or more social groups. Intra-group racism extends within the group itself. An example of intragroup racism among blacks was that African Americans once endorsed the idea that darker-skinned African Americans were inherently inferior to lighter-skinned African Americans (Gatewood, 1988; Okazawa-Rey, Robinson, & Ward, 1986). Additionally, African American fraternities, sororities, business and social organizations, churches, preparatory schools, and historically black colleges and universities routinely excluded African Americans on the basis of skin tone and hair texture (Neal & Wilson, 1989; Okazawa-Rey et al., 1986). These groups used the standards of the majority group as their “reference group” in evaluating themselves rather than using their own African standards. Research has found a link in the negative effects of racism that have resulted in internalized problems (Dubois, et al., 2002) and psychological distresses (Williams, et al., 2003) such as depression, and anxiety (Caldwell, et al., 2004) (Brondolo, et al., 2003), heart disease and Substance abuse (Gibbons, et al., 2004).

Intragroup racism is what the general population is familiar with. There as been a lot of work done on the harmful effects of racism on the physical and mental health outcomes of African-American adults (Clark, et al., 1999; Jackson, et al., 1996). Giscombe & Lobel in 2005 found in their research a link between perceptions of racism and adverse birth outcomes, there is also a link between racism and hypertension (Brondolo et al, 2003). Lambert and colleagues found in their research that the concept of discrimination stress provided evidence of how one’s group is perceived by another group and these perceptions may be tied to individual perception. In other words, negative perceptions of ones racial group may have negative effects of one’s perception of self such as a negative self-image, poor self-esteem, and negative self-concept.

Bone structure, hair texture, skin tone, beliefs of intelligence, etc. are also influenced by race related standards causing anxiety among African Americans. Nyborg & Curry (2003) found that reports of personal experience with racism are associated with great self reported internalizing symptoms such as lower self-concept and greater levels of helplessness among African American boys ages 10-15. In addition to psychological distress, Williams et al., (2003) found that experience of increasing discrimination over time has been linked with increased internalizing problems. The perception of an event as racist activates a set of psychological and emotional stress responses to the event (Clark et al., 1999). Racism affects family functioning and how individuals in the family view themselves with in the family structure.