Dealing with the Rise of Intolerance and Racism

By: | August 13, 2018

How am I dealing With the Rise of Intolerance and Racism? Not very well. After the white supremacist events of Charlottesville last year, something was different for me. My feelings of anger and despair reached a tipping point. I have perceived an increased persistent threat due to increased racism. I also realized that my racial defenses had lowered during the 1990’s because it appeared that the country was making slow but steady progress toward racial equality.

However, now, I’m on hyper alert to threats real and imaged as my stress level escalates, partially because of too much exposure to the media as it attempts to cover the backlash and resentment some whites are expressing about diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism and all of its derivatives. I know I am not alone in my feelings.

A year ago, a new trusted advisor in my life said to me, “You are what you consume.” She helped me acknowledged that I have been consuming an overdose of negativity in the media. Watching race relations evolve day to day is like driving by a car crash. I slow down and look. Calling police on innocent people, shootings, the rise of hate crimes, Muslim bands, investigations into colleges discriminating against whites, targeting those who are protesting on behalf of social justice and the rollback of LBGT rights. I could go on, but then I would “have a fit and fall in it” as a good friend of mine says.

Question? Does anyone else struggle with finding the proper balance between remaining informed versus ignoring the changing realities of race relations? Is anyone else upset at others who seem to live in a bubble, pretending that if they keep their head down and passively continue, somehow that the Santa Clause of race relations will bring the gifts of renewed tolerance and equality? I do.

What the Research Says

The overwhelming majority of the research on stress and identity shows that chronic exposure to severe discrimination can have adverse effects on health and well-being that impact family, friends, finances, work, and health. New research by a team led by psychologist Anthony Ong of Cornell University collected evidence that raised the issue of stress proliferation, which is the tendency of stressors to multiply and create other stressors. When your teammates, students, constituents, customers, and community members face chronic stress related to an aspect of their identity, many begin to experience physical symptoms. At first, they are usually mild, like headaches and increased susceptibility to colds. However, more serious health problems can arise from chronic exposure to even subtle prejudice. These stress-influenced conditions can include depression, diabetes, hair loss, heart disease, sleep loss, hyperthyroidism, obesity, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors, YIKES.

Unfortunately, when we are on the receiving end of constant negative messages about who we are, we risk internalizing the negativity and starting to believe and perpetuate the negativity directed toward our identity group. That is what’s been happening to me lately. Internalization causes me/us to act in harmful ways toward ourselves to cope with the stress. Some examples include:

  • Giving in to despair, rage, and bitterness
  • Degrading ourselves and stooping to the same level as others by expressing intolerance to those with even less power
  • Seeking revenge against the perpetrators of prejudice, and committing acts of violence and sabotage
  • Directing jealousy toward those who suffer less
  • Abusing alcohol, drugs, food, or sex as a way to ease the pain
  • Scheming with those who harm our identity group members to earn approval or special privileges
  • Staying within the safety of our community or identity group, thus limiting many of our life options.

Dealing with the rise of racism and the backlash to diversity and inclusion, and figuring out what you want to do about it is one of the most pressing personal challenges you face as a black person and any other at-risk identity groups. The choices you make can significantly affect your work climate, interactions with customers, your community environment, but most importantly it can harm your well-being. Take care of yourself. I am trying. It’s a new world.