Context Note: I originally wrote this piece as a journal entry for a class of mine. I’m sharing it here as I got some positive responses to it from other people of colour in my class and I think that it could potentially be a useful intuition pump.
What I talk about, below, is an idea that I’ve been finding useful for myself as an individual. It’s not a prescription for how other people should respond to what they’re experiencing. It’s me sharing an idea that I’ve personally found useful.
I think of it as somewhat separate from the broader cultural problems that it may be symptomatic of. This little blog post is not meant to suggest any kind of sufficient cultural behaviours.
I’m a person of colour. I’m a big — and kind of scary looking — brown man. I have long hair and a beard.
Lately, I’m feeling more anxious and worried than usual about how other people will respond to me in public. I’m stressing myself out with how much I’m worrying that strangers will act in a hostile way towards me based on my race. I’m worried that people will be cruel to me due to racial prejudice and discrimination.
When I pass somebody by on the street and they look at me (or don’t look at me), I often can’t tell whether they’re feeling hostile towards me or not. And, if they are feeling hostile towards me, I can’t tell whether or not it’s because of the colour of my skin, or because of some other factor. The same uncertainty runs through my mind when somebody cuts me off in traffic or interacts with me in their car in some other aggressive way.
I came across a literature review that relates to how I’ve been feeling. It was in the textbook of a psychology class that I’m doing right now. The literature review is by Brondolo, Brady, Pencille, Beatty, and Contrada (2009). It’s about the effects of racial prejudice and discrimination on the stress (and associated health problems) of targeted individuals. Our textbook summarized the findings of the literature review, which found that “being the target of racism is associated with increased rates of depression, lowered self-esteem, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease” (Spielman et al., 2018).
Reading about this finding, from that literature review, made me think about the ways in which my increased anxieties around racism might begin to impact my mental and physiological health. I worry about how my health might be negatively affected if I continue to experience the stress I’ve felt lately about my race. The stress I’ve been feeling seems to be in part related to my worries and anxieties that other people will hold hostile attitudes towards me based on a prejudice against me due to my race.
One possible solution to this, which also came up in our textbook last week, is that appraisal could play an empowering role for my mental and physiological health. Perhaps, one way in which I can try to approach this issue with more of an internal locus of control is if I choose to focus on my appraisal of these potentially racist moments, instead of trying to guess what’s going on in other people’s minds.
When somebody looks at me in a way that I perceive to be hostile, I do have some control over how I appraise the interaction. Of course, some interactions are less subtle and vague than others. For example, someone might yell a racist slur at me. Could appraisal still play a role in helping me reduce the stress that I experience due to such an interaction? I suspect that it could.
The situational factors at play here, related to the ways in which culture and history inform other people’s attitudes (and my own attitudes) are of course important. I don’t mean to say that historically marginalized people should just get better at appraisals and that that would ‘solve racism’. But nonetheless, as a racialized person, I think that I might feel more empowered in some interactions if I focus on how I choose to appraise questionably hostile interactions, instead of trying to read other people’s minds. And, perhaps, if I feel more empowered and I feel a greater sense of self-efficacy because of this, I might not be as negatively affected by some of the potential race-related stressors in my life. I hope that I can play an active role in protecting my mental and physiological health by shifting my locus of control to be more internal in this way and by focusing on my appraisal of race-related interactions in my own life.
Brondolo, E., Halen, N. B., Pencille, M., Beatty, D., & Contrada, R. J. (2009). Coping with racism: A selective review of the literature and a theoretical and methodological critique. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 32(1), 64-88. doi:10.1007/s10865-008-9193-0
Spielman, R. M., Dumper, K., Jenkins, W., Lacombe, A., Lovett, M., & Perlmutter, M. (2018). 14.4 Regulation of Stress. In Psychology. Houston, TX: OpenStax, Rice University.