Many of us are affected by issues surrounding racism and discrimination, with nearly a fifth of the English and Welsh population coming from BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) backgrounds. People have been striving to reduce societal racism for decades, and the recent Black Lives Matter movement has impacted many of us, and brought up a lot of emotions for people of colour.
Read on for more about what racism is, how it can be experienced in different environments, and how our mental wellbeing can be impacted by it.
Racism or racial discrimination can manifest in many different ways, and involves being treated unfairly because of your race, ethnicity, or skin colour.
Racism can be an obvious act, such as being subjected to racist names or slurs, or being singled out at work or social events because of your race. However, racism can also occur through microaggressions (racist actions that often seem subtle or unintentional such as assuming a person of colour cannot speak English well) or racial bias (prejudgements about a person or group of people because of their race).
People of colour are also impacted by systemic racism, which is discrimination that is a ‘normal’ part of life, society, or an organisation. This form of racism is especially difficult to escape from as it is part of how many societal systems have been formed, including education, health care, and employment.
People of colour can experience microaggressions on a daily basis; these are assumptions about a person based on their race that are acted upon through comments or actions which express prejudice atittudes towards marginalized groups.
These assumptions can be subtle and unintentional, however the process of making a comment or acting in a certain way towards the person is what makes it a microaggressive, racist behaviour.
While the person carrying out a microaggression may not realise they are being prejudiced, it is important that we take responsibility for our actions and learn from them if we are informed that they are racist.
It can be difficult to recognise or respond to microaggressions as they occur because they tend to be subtle or said in passing, and often we realise we have experienced a microaggression after it has happened.
Microaggressions can have an impact on our mental health because of how frequently they occur, and because they can build up slowly over time. Experiencing racism in the form of microaggressions can result in us feeling angry and frustrated, or low in mood.
You can learn more about coping with feelings of anger and low mood via our Feelings page and by scrolling down for tips and advice.
The term ‘racial bias’ refers to when a person or group are prejudged due to their race when compared to a person or group of another race.
For example, if a black woman voicing her opinions is perceived as aggressive, while a white woman behaves in the same way but is perceived as passionate, this is racial bias.
Racial bias often leads to people of colour being treated unfairly and this can occur in any setting, such as within the workplace or when accessing health services. People can also experience bias due to age, gender identity, disablity, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.
Similarly to microaggressions, racial bias isn’t always immediately obvious. However, racial bias can have a significant impact on mental health because it sends the message that people of colour should be ‘othered’ and are limited due to their race, ethnicity or skin colour.
Watch the video to learn more about racial bias and white privilege in the UK and how it can affect mental health.
While many assume racism only occurs through verbal or physical abuse towards people of colour, in reality racism is present within many aspects of our society.
Systemic (or institutional) racism occurs when people from black and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds are excluded from society or an organisation due to how resources, opportunities, and power are distributed. Systemic racism is the result of operating in ways that are racially biased, while considering this as ‘normal’ practice.
Systemic racism can be evident through many aspects of society, including education, access to health care, the law, and employment, and we are all affected by this. For example, during childhood our school curriculum most likely focused predominantly on white culture and did not reflect positive contributions from people of colour, and resources were created by white authors as opposed to a range of culturally diverse backgrounds.
Systemic racism is a widespread issue; we can’t challenge it alone, and this can leave us feeling hopeless. However, we can develop our own understanding of systemic racism, challenge everyday racist behaviours, and encourage others to do the same. For tips and advice about challenging racism and looking after your mental health, scroll down to the next section.
When someone is intentionally harmed because of their actual or perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or gender identity, this is a hate crime.
If you are a victim of, or witness to, a hate crime or incident, it’s important to report this. By reporting hate crime, this can help to raise awareness of concerns within your community, help to ensure offenders are brought to justice, and you receive the support you need.
There are several ways to report hate crime, some of which are listed below.
If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can dial 18000 to use the textphone service.
If you don’t feel comfortable or are unable to speak over the phone, you can send texts to 999 if you have registered with the emergency SMS service (to register, text ‘register’ to 999 and follow the instructions).
Contact the police - Call 101 (or 18001 101 for textphone service) or visit your local police station.
Report online - You can report hate crime online via the True Vision website. You can specify how you want to be contacted, and the police will not disclose your details without your consent.
You can also use the Stop Hate UK Reporting App to report incidents anonymously and receive confidential support.
Find out how racism may be impacting your wellbeing and hear from other people about their experiences.
When we experience racism on a day-to-day basis, this can affect us physically and mentally. Watch this video for more information about how racism can impact mental health in all aspects of our lives.
Experiencing racism can impact our mental health, no matter how small it may seem. Microaggressions, racial bias, and systemic racism can affect us suddenly or from building up slowly over time. This can leave us feeling isolated, angry, or self-conscious, and could lead to experiences of depression and anxiety, among other issues.
Do any of the following statements apply to you?
No one person is to blame for racism; it is a societal disease that may have changed and developed over centuries, but still remains in society today.
We are all responsible for challenging racism through how we respond when we experience or witness microaggressions, racial bias, and systemic racism. By challenging racist behaviours, we can encourage others to do the same, and this can help to shift society’s perspective that racism is ‘normal’ and instead show that it should not be.
Diversity in skin colour, race and ethnicity should be celebrated; our differences are what make us who we are, and we are all deserving of care, happiness, and respect.
There has been increased coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement recently, and this has led to many of us confronting issues of racism within families, communities, and workplaces, as well as challenging ourselves about racial bias we may experience or have been perpetuating.
People of colour who have experienced or witnessed racism can be affected in many different ways, and this can bring up a mixture of emotions. When we are working through uncomfortable feelings and having difficult conversations, it is vital that we are taking care of our mental wellbeing.
A few reminders:
Scroll down for advice and resources to help you manage the effects of racism on your mental health.
Experiencing or witnessing racism can make us feel lonely or isolated, and it can feel uncomfortable to speak up about these issues. Consider who you trust within your support network – this could be friends, family, a partner, or perhaps a counsellor – and have a conversation about how you are feeling. Speaking to people we trust can help us feel more connected, and allows us to feel more confident sharing our thoughts and feelings.
If you are unsure who to speak to, you could look into joining a support group (either online or in your local area) where you can share your feelings in a safe space where others have had similar experiences.
You can also find other forms of support in your local area here.
When we are faced with racism, it’s common to feel powerless or not know what to do. Knowing what your human rights are, including how you can report racial abuse or hate crimes, can help you to feel more in control and empowered in the face of racial discrimination.
You can find more information about laws against racial discrimination and what action can be taken here
Remember: hate crimes are illegal, and can be reported in a range of ways depending on what you feel comfortable doing. You can find more details about this in the first section of this module.
Racism can impact our self-esteem, especially if we feel self-conscious about our appearance or mannerisms. Many people of colour feel they have to hide or change parts of themselves to fit in, but remember; you are worthy, just the way you are.
If you are feeling self-conscious, you could draw inspiration from exploring BAME culture if you haven’t already done so. Learn about BAME leaders across the world such as activists, presidents, and historical figures, and find out more about the many positive contributions that people of colour have made to society.
If you use social media, follow people of colour who inspire you and share your interests. They could be authors, artists, musicians, or influencers, and this can help you feel more connected and feel proud of the skin you are in.
Many of us are experiencing strong emotions in relation to racism in the UK and worldwide, and it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to challenging it.
It’s important to keep ourselves safe and practise self-care when responding to anti-BLM arguments, in person or online. Here are some ways to challenge racism safely:
Educate yourself – learn more about anti-black racism through films, books, podcasts and social media accounts, and raise awareness of these issues by sharing resources with others who’d like to learn more too.
Respond calmly – seeing or hearing racist comments can spark strong emotions, and how we respond to these can help us feel more in control within the conversation. Read or listen to the comment carefully, and ask for further clarification if anything they are saying is unclear. If you are concerned about your wellbeing, take yourself away from the situation and/or report it.
Join a movement – there are lots of different anti-racist movements within the UK where you can join others who are challenging societal racism and fighting for change. Being around others who share the same values can help you to feel empowered, to learn more about racist issues, and to feel more hopeful about changes that can be made.
Many of us can feel overwhelmed when experiencing or witnessing racism, whether this in subtle ways during everyday life or a sudden event.
It’s also common to feel burnt out by challenging racism; facing racist issues and having difficult conversations can be exhausting, and it’s OK to take a break from this.
Try to make sure your routine includes doing things that make you feel good and having time for yourself. Some ideas could be: