The main ideas of this essay came to my mind approximately a month ago, when my classmates and I, as part of our History and Systems PsyD course at Adler University, were discussing how we can help victims of racism heal in our psychotherapeutic work. Many of the suggestions my classmates made in this regard seemed to revolve around the use of emotion-focused approaches (e.g., emotional validation). Though I instantly recognized the value of such approaches, I wondered to myself whether victims of racism might stand to additionally benefit from more cognitive healing methods, specifically education-based methods. Further reflection led to me recalling what I have learned through my own readings in such areas as evolutionary anthropology and human rights, and to contemplating how this knowledge may be used to facilitate the healing process for those individuals who have experienced racial discrimination and racist oppression. The thesis that I wish to defend in this essay is as follows: the process of healing from the effects of racism can be aided by a dual educational approach consisting of educating victims of racism about a) the common evolutionary origins of all human beings and thus the irrationality of racist thinking and behaviour and b) the ethical/legal fact that every human being possesses fundamental human rights, including a right to equal treatment, and thus the immorality of racist thinking and behaviour.
I will begin with a sociological definition of racism and racism’s negative impact upon people’s health. Conceptualized as organized systems in a society that give rise to preventable and unjust disparities in power, access to resources, and opportunities among racial/ethnic groups, racism operates through “…beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices or discrimination” (Paradies et al., 2015). Racism can be intrapersonal (one’s outlook can contain racist ideas and beliefs), interpersonal (the manner in which one interacts with others may be racist), as well as systemic (racism may pervade the operation of social and political institutions) (Paradies et al., 2015). A driver of “…exclusion, conflict and disadvantage…”, racism exists around the globe and appears to be on the rise in many countries (Paradies et al., 2015). A 2015 meta-analysis reviewing studies from different parts of the world that examined the relationship between reported experiences of racism and health outcomes found an association between racism and poor psychological health, as well as a link between racism and poor physical health (Paradies et al., 2015).
The aforementioned empirical findings strongly indicate that racism impacts human beings’ physical and psychological health in adverse ways, and that it makes logical sense to speak of healing from the effects of racism. I am, as indicated earlier in this essay, an advocate of the use of emotion-focused approaches for the purpose of helping victims of racist oppression heal; attempting to demonstrate empathy for such individuals, or validating their understandable feelings of sadness, anger, or shame can surely be helpful and therapeutic. However, as also suggested previously, I am in favor of using, alongside the emotional healing approaches, more cognitive, and specifically education-based means of healing racism-inflicted wounds. A dual educational approach consisting of providing victims of racism with knowledge of certain evolutionary anthropological facts, as well as universal human rights, can arguably help these individuals advance on the road to healing. I will at this point describe in greater detail the two components of my proposed dual educational approach, beginning with the provision of evolutionary anthropological information.
Research in the scientific field of evolutionary anthropology has shown that the ancestors of all currently existing humans, who belong to the species known as Homo sapiens, originated in the African continent in prehistory and subsequently spread to other regions of the world (Tattersall, 2009). Educating a victim of racism about these scientifically derived facts about reality can arguably help demonstrate to said individual the irrationality of racist thinking and behaviour; if all human beings are part of the same species and all human beings’ origins can ultimately be traced back in prehistory to the same place, how does discriminating against other humans on racial grounds make rational sense? The realization that science provides evidence that racism does not make logical sense can help victims of racism heal in a number of conceivable ways. It may help them more easily see racist comments and behaviours as rooted in ignorance and consequently allow them to become less negatively emotionally affected by such comments and behaviours. It may also help them feel more comfortable and confident about assertively standing up for themselves in the face of racial discrimination, and possibly also about engaging in peaceful social activism aimed at removing such oppression from society.
As mentioned previously, the second component of my proposed dual educational approach for helping people heal from racism’s harmful effects consists of familiarizing victims of racism with their fundamental human rights. As stated in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings, regardless of their racial or ethnic backgrounds, possess a number of fundamental rights, including a right to equal treatment (UN General Assembly, 1948). Based on these ethical/legal facts, racist thinking and behaviour violates universal human rights and can thus be regarded as highly immoral in nature. Educating victims of racist oppression about the fundamental rights they possess as human beings and how these rights have been violated by racism can arguably help them more clearly see the immorality and wrongness of the racial discrimination they have been subjected to. This may in turn empower victims of racism to protect their human rights against racist attacks by, for example, engaging in human rights advocacy and educational work; it is this empowerment that can arguably aid those who have suffered racism experience emotional and psychological healing.
The healing dual educational system outlined above can likely fruitfully be utilized to reverse racism’s health-damaging effects in a number of different social contexts, including workplaces and organizations, schools, psychotherapy and counselling, within families, and among friends, alongside numerous other settings.
Paradies, Y., Ben, J., Denson, Elias, A., Priest, A., Pieterse, . . . Gee, G. (2015). Racism as a determinant of health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 10(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0138511
Tattersall, I. (2009). Human origins: Out of Africa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(38), 16018-16021. https://www.pnas.org/content/106/38/16018.short
UN General Assembly. (1948). “Universal declaration of human rights” (217 [III] A). Paris. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/