Implicit Racism, Meritocracy, & Effects on Mental health
Whites tend to be unaware that the color of their skin has equal association to power,
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
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
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,
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
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
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
equate 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
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
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
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
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
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.