Implicit Racism, Meritocracy, & Effects on Mental health
Whites tend to be unaware that the color of their skin has equal association to power,
supremacy, dominance, and control within American history. An ideology in this nature upholds those traditions through systematic and institutionalized forms of racism, sexism, and classism, demonstrated in the laws, education, health, culture/language, and media. The media is a platform of racist ideology that creates a false image of a particular group of people, or a controlling image that works to categorize people into hierarchical differentiation. In the articles, "Meritocracy, Self-concerns, and Whites' denial of racial inequity" (Knowles & Lowery, 2012), including "Preventing Another Trayvon Martin Tragedy" (Cochran, et al, 2013), and "Cross-sectional and longitudinal effects of racism on mental health" (Goodman & Kwate, 2015) helps address these issues stated above.
For example, Kwate and Goodman (2015) investigated the mental health of African Americans
for one year, in conjunction with reported racism in two of the largest Black neighborhoods within NYC. Health consequences described in the article including in the documentary Precious Loss: A race in Colorado, are part of the inequality of African Americans and Latinos face in our society. Much of Kwate and Goodman's findings were that hundreds of other studies found that "high levels of discrimination were associated with increased psychological distress" (Goodman & Kwate, 2015, pp. 711). Although levels of discrimination are higher for African American men, on the basis of levels of psychological distress, African American women were more affected by distress. For instance, "women had higher mean scores overall. For depressive symptoms, men’s scores, which were lower than women’s, declined slightly; women’s remained flat" (pp. 714.) Although in this case, regardless of income, African American infants are born with low birth rate and higher infant mortality rate compared to whites. But of course, poorer health is associated with lower income, and Kwate and Goodman's (2015) study find that financial strain was associated with poorer health on all outcomes of daily life experiences, experiences of racism, and everyday discrimination. Everyday discrimination was associated with worsening mental health after 1 year. Kwate and Goodman (2015) had an interesting find "suggesting that denying racism negatively affected hypertension" (pp. 715), and in a sense "it appeared that actively processing the reality of race blunted the blow to mental Health" (pp. 716.) It is interesting to note that whites tend to have worse mental health than blacks, perhaps because of coping strategies; but again, blacks suffer disproportionately from worse physical health compared to whites. This is synonymous in the findings of the PBS documentary Precious Loss, which raised the point that African Americans had high levels of cortisol because of stress, which affected infant mortality rate.
The physical health of African Americans put on by stress is from the institutionalized
discrimination possibly faced throughout their lives. A discrimination comes from the segregation in
place during slavery, then Jim Crow, and today. In the article Preventing Another Trayvon Martin
Tragedy by Cochran et al. (2013), suggests that in America, under a history of segregation, black children have embodied the ideology that white is considered the norm, the default option, or even "better than" other races. Racism and white privilege have been a process in-the-making, where language represents the dominant culture—including how we describe people, often uses a language to devalue or dehumanize groups of people. Cochran et al. (2013) uses examples of language that invoke stereotypes such as “little old lady” as a non-threatening image, while “a large Black man” tries to invoke a response of danger, and this continues to reproduce a controlling racist image.
In fact, a controlling image of Blacks and Latinos was associated with the War on Drugs under
the Regan Administration. During this time, the media reinforced images of poverty, drugs, welfare
fraud, in association with African Americans. In fact this affected how law enforcement sentenced crack dealers versus cocaine dealers, where sentences for "crack cocaine (associated with use by African Americans) at 100 times the penalty for the distribution of powder cocaine (associated with young middle class Whites" (Cochran et al., 2013, pp. 15.) This has led to African Americans and Latinos more affected by drug offenses, where "three fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been African American or Latino" (pp. 15.) This is obvious racial bias, especially considering the research evidences that Whites and Blacks are neither more likely than the other to use or sell drugs--although White youth are most likely, compared to African, Hispanic, or Latino Americans, to be in possession of drugs according to researchers cited in Preventing Another Trayvon Martin Tragedy (Cochran et al., 2013.)
In this article, Cochran et al. (2013) states that Whites frame minority groups in the context of competition for resources/opportunities--this is evident when you hear people say that immigrants are
taking American jobs. And, some Whites tend to frame a language around minority groups as "others"-and "illegals" almost exclusively towards Mexican immigrants, while unrecognizing the fact that there are many Asian and European undocumented immigrants. A controlling image becomes part of the language used to reproduce white privilege and recreate racism. The narratives of black men and those who have been murdered by police, is that of similar treatment during slavery with acts of lynching, beatings, and dehumanizing. It is beyond comprehension why a police officer would beat a man with a baton 56 times (as in the Rodney King case and echoes across the narratives of other young black men.) The language in the news, for example with the Trayvon Martin murder, excused George Zimmerman's suspension because Martin was wearing a hoodie.
In this context, it is perceived that the United States can only be a white America where only
light skinned people benefit and can acquire privileges that prevent them from the same attacks on
merit as that of Black and Latino Americans. In the Meritocracy article by Knowles and Lowery's (2012), they suggest "priming the meritocracy norm reduces perceptions of racial privilege among highly identified White" (pp. 203.) That is, the theory that some people deserve what happens to them. In part, white denial serves to reproduce white privilege and uses their own implicit biases to reproduce a world that reflects racist ideology (white supremacy.)
Furthermore, when norms are precursors to ideals, the meritocratic norm becomes internalized.
In Stephen Caliendo's Inequality in America (2014) text, he says that this myth of meritocracy has
fostered the idea that "poverty is a character flaw, that minorities receive the bulk of government
entitlements, and that poverty is uniquely urban)" (pp. 2.) In contrast, those that identify as white,
embody the idea of personal merit, simultaneously denying white privilege—even though their race
provides them with access to opportunities that minority groups do not have the same access to.
Using Karl Marx's theory: the class with access to the means of material production (resources
equated to power), have control over the means of mental production (norms, values, language), thus
those who lack the means of mental production are subjected to the ideals of the dominant culture (in
this case: meritocracy.) In other words, "White privilege is due to Whites’ internalization of merit as a
personal ideal" (Knowles & Lowery, 2012, pp. 210.) The research seems to suggest that whites will
admit that racial bias occurs for the color of one's skin, but will not admit that their white skin comes
with any privileges or advantages—these may be the same people that the view humanitarian efforts as good for society, yet generally believes the government spends too much on welfare programs and
universal services. But what's important of this research is that we are conflicted by this question of
what is fair, and who is deserving. For example, Knowles and Lowery (2012) state: "individuals impute an 'equity standard' specifying the appropriate or 'fair' level of a given resource (e.g., monetary assets), and against which each group is separately compared" (pp. 218.)
Consequently, White privilege is the supremacy over other races in American society, and it is
evident in the readings mentioned above. It is a "invisible knapsack" as Peggy McIntosh would call the advantages of whites, which include ease of obtaining a job, access to health clinics, community
resources, healthy food, and equal education. This privilege of whites simultaneously takes away
benefits from African American and Hispanic Americans, who are more likely to be uninsured, lack the access to resources and information. White privilege has fostered institutionalized racism, and Native, African, and Hispanic Americans are the groups affected. White supremacy is the power to control images of black and brown victims as criminals, and create a law enforcement that disproportionately arrests and abuses African Americans and Latino Americans compared to whites. As evidenced in the report on the Ferguson department's police brutality.
Discussed in the articles Preventing Another Trayvon Martin Tragedy (Cochran et al., 2013),
Cross-sectional and longitudinal effects of racism (Goodman & Kwate, 2015), and Meritocracy, Self
Concerns, and Whites' Denial of Racial Inequity (Knowles & Lowery, 2012), the disproportionate affects on health, mental stress, police brutality, are in part symbols of racism that stemmed from the attitudes of Whites. Mentioned in the article on Meritocracy (Knowles & Lowery, 2012), dismantling racism will take convincing Whites that their race comes with power that have historically subjugated people of color to inequality, inequity, and slavery; and only then will Whites encourage policies such as affirmative action, and understand it's importance and need. Likewise, it will take teaching children at a young age the tools of empathy, and a new language and image that seeks to reproduce a world of equality and equity.
Caliendo, Stephen M. (2014). Inequality in America: Race, Poverty, and Fulfilling Democracy's Promise
(Dilemmas in American Politics). Westview Press. Kindle Edition.
Cochran, S. D., Coles, C. N., Gellene, D., Johnson, D., & Mays, V. M. (2013). Using the Science of
Psychology to Target Perpetrators of Racism and Race-Based Discrimination For Intervention
Efforts: Preventing Another Trayvon Martin Tragedy. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and
Psychology, 5(1), 11-36.
Goodman, M. S. & Kwate, Naa Oyo A. (2015). Cross-sectional and longitudinal effects of racism on
mental health among residents of black neighborhoods in New York city. The American Journal
of Public Health, 105(4), 711-718.
Knowles, E., & Lowery, B. (2012). Meritocracy, Self-Concerns, and Whites' Denial of Racial Inequity. Self
and Identity, 11(2), 202-222.