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How Systemic Racism Impacts the Mental Health of Marginalized Communities

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I know this is a sensitive topic for many and it might be uncomfortable, but sometimes we have to touch on the uncomfortable topics to help others understand just what some of us go through as minorities and people of color.

For those that don’t know, systemic racism occurs when you cannot get hired because of the color of your skin, your natural hair, or when you cannot get approved for an apartment rental because you’re not white enough. Whether you are Black, Asian or Hispanic, it happens to all of us. Being a Black woman, I witnessed this a lot growing up.

A lot of people talk about unemployment among Black Americans, but they always leave out the part where these same Black Americans try to get jobs and are turned down for someone who has skin lighter than theirs. Being told that your natural hair is inappropriate for a job interview, having your child being told they can no longer come to school because their hair is braided or simply seeing all white casts on multiple popular movies and television shows is the systemic racism we speak of.

It is no secret that America is still a predominantly white country, and although we are slowly making progress and have certainly come a long way, systemic racism remains, especially in areas like the work place. Imagine you are a young Black man, hoping to get a job so you can get on your feet…and you are denied work because of your skin color, accent or hair style. What do you think that’s going to do to this man?

That may result in depression or cause other mental health struggles. He may try to make money in other ways that may land him in trouble, in the long run. We should always be responsible for our own actions, but we also cannot deny that systemic racism plays a role in all of this. We can pretend like this doesn’t exist, but it does and can instill a sense of inferiority within marginalized communities.

There are also a lot of Asian hate crimes being committed and blatant racism against Asians since COVID-19 hit the United States. Imagine being a young Asian student, very driven… and yet, cannot get a job because someone has blamed them for COVID-19? Mexican Americans are also often very marginalized to only being given opportunities to do yard work or landscaping, and nobody bats an eyelash about this.

All of these things can cause not only depression, but also anger and rage in marginalized communities. Once this happens, some may lash out, and what’s sad is the end result is that people of color are often seen as the issue. Racists point at people of color and say we are good for nothing and that we are lazy. So we try to apply for work and we are turned down in favor of someone lighter than we are, with the right hair. We end up either being unemployed or making money in our own way, then we are pointed at and made an example of.

The system in the United States is set up so that it is much harder for people of color to succeed. Our country is still not where it needs to be. It is important to raise the topic of depression and mental health in general in marginalized communities, because many just bury it. In Black communities, we are often working hard to show the world why we are worthy and that we are just as capable as white people to get a job done.

Because of this, we often see it as a weakness to speak of any depression we may be feeling from the lifestyle we may have felt forced into, especially young Black men. Young Black men can be so driven that if they cannot get a regular working job, they may find a way to make money and that could lead them down the path of being locked up or worse. So what are they supposed to do when they cannot feel accepted anywhere, cannot get regular working jobs without being discriminated against, and start becoming angry and depressed about their situation?

This is exactly how systemic racism leads to depression and worse, in people of color. This is why people may join gangs and continue to go down paths that they otherwise wouldn’t have. To constantly be told you’re not good enough after trying so hard to be accepted, you could end up giving up and turning to the street life.

We need to tackle mental health in not only Black communities but also Asian and Latino communities, as these demographics are very underrepresented.

Getty image by fizkes

Originally published: March 9, 2022
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