Newswise — WASHINGTON -- The American Psychological Association has produced a video entitled “Racism in America” aimed at promoting dialogue on the complex issues associated with race-related stress.

“As experts on human behavior, psychologists have a unique perspective that can inform a critical analysis of race relations, leading to discussions that promote critical thinking, broaden one’s perspective and increase empathy,” said Tiffany G. Townsend, PhD, senior director of APA’s Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs. “Healthy dialogue is necessary to face and eventually bridge the nation’s racial divide.”

“Racism in America” is the first in a series of videos under the rubric Facing the Divide. The series aims to bring psychological science into conversations regarding the connections among race, racism and health. Future videos will focus on police-community interactions, microaggressions and the impact of race-related stress on children.  

This first video in the series features a cross-section of people of color – all psychologists or doctoral students in psychology – talking about the toll that pervasive, institutionalized racism has had on them, their families and other people of color in America. For example, Jessica Jackson, MA, a doctoral candidate at New Mexico State University, remembers her first day in a high school honors English class when “the teacher asked me if I was in the wrong room. I said no … And so she said, ‘No, this is an honors class, I don’t think you’re in the right room.” Jackson was in the right room but says she consistently got lower grades than everybody else in the class, to the point that her mother had to intervene with the teacher. “And I felt that it left a stain on me,” she adds in the video. “In every educational endeavor, I need to prove that I need to be there.”

Camara Jones, PhD, of the Morehouse School of Medicine, talks about the strong connection between race and social class, noting that it’s not “just a happenstance” that there are more people of color than white people living in poverty in America. “If I had a magic wand and could eliminate poverty across this land and across all groups, I would do it today,” she says. “But if I did that without addressing the background mechanism[s] of institutionalized racism that were deliberately put in place to shunt different populations into different opportunities … within one generation, we would start to see a stratification by race again in terms of income and social class.”  

Milton Fuentes, PsyD, a professor at Montclair State University, points to the lack of a sense of control as one of the most damaging aspects of racism and race-related stress. “[If I am] being viewed through the lens of individuals who have concerns, negative perceptions around race, that's going to affect my professional well-being, my personal well-being,” he says in the video. “I think what makes it even more stressful is that I don't have control over it.”

Thomas Parham, PhD, president of California State University at Dominguez Hills, discusses the struggle that psychologists and other helping professionals face when trying to fortify people of color against the negative impact of racism. “How do we equip people with what we'll call a psychological armor, if you will,” he says. “A breastplate, something to kind of manage your head in a way that allows you not to be as severely impacted by what goes on.”  

Developing an identity-affirming environment is one solution, he says. “To the degree that I perceive the environment to be very affirming, it is likely to have me engaging with people in much more authentic ways. Whether I’m on a college campus or community center, navigating through civic engagement or on a job somewhere, I don’t have any problem negotiating my way and blurring the boundaries of demographic differences to work with people in those particular contexts and to still maintain my sense of cultural integrity.”

Repairing the racial divide requires effort from all Americans, Jude Bergkamp, PsyD, of Antioch University Seattle, says in the video. “[R]esponsibility for the alleviation of race-related stress is not within the individuals who experience it. … this is our problem, all of us.”

APA’s Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs, which consulted on the video production, also wrote an instructor discussion guide to accompany “Racism in America.” It contains:

• A summary of relevant concepts featured in the video

• Strategies and tips for facilitating the discussion  

• Sample discussion questions

• A glossary of terms  

• Relevant references and resources  

“Discussing race-related issues can be challenging for everyone involved, especially when participants represent multiple racial groups,” Townsend said. “With the guidance and insights of psychology, we hope that this video is the first of many productive steps taken by Americans everywhere to face and eventually bridge the racial divide.”

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

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