Like any other form of inequity and exclusion, racism impedes the social, economic and cultural participation of those who experience it. This experience leads to negative consequences for an individual’s mental and physical health, standard of living and well-being.
Racism causes feelings of distress, rejection, self-deprecation, marginalization, self-doubt, shame, insecurity and distrust. Those who are the targets of racism may feel powerless and angry, leading to violence directed against oneself or others. Depression, hopelessness and broken self-esteem are further repercussions.
Racism in schools interrupts the healthy social development of young people. Students who experience racism may feel typecast or reduced to a category or stereotype, their individuality erased. They may be forced into a painful and stressful process of questioning their identity and sense of belonging. Focusing on the curriculum may be of minimal importance to a young person undergoing such a wrenching personal experience.
Predictably, such confusing and devastating feelings lead to a range of indicators that young people are in difficulty. Teachers may witness such signs as absenteeism, low achievement, high drop-out rates and self-destructive behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse. Gang involvement may fill a need to belong, to feel validated and to reverse a sense of powerlessness. Among young people in Aboriginal communities, we see the most tragic end result of racism in higher rates of suicide.
Teachers, especially at a secondary level, can no doubt think of students in our schools who exhibit reactions of resentment, betrayal and fear of school staff. Other “difficult” students seem to have no interest in learning and their behaviour may further marginalize them. Such indicators may be due in part to the lack of positive cultural reference points in their environment. These young people do not recognize themselves in their school or social environments.
Teachers can become allies of challenging and troubled students by digging deeper, beyond the negative labels. Placing such behaviour in the larger social context is a starting point.
- What other consequences of racism can I identify?
- What manifestations of racism have I seen (or experienced) in my school?
- What are some small steps I could take in my own life (e.g. personal and professional interactions) to share more evenly my power and privilege as a white person (if that is my identity)?
- What kinds of strategies can I identify (or have I implemented in my school) that can facilitate the development of young people’s ethnocultural identity?