Confronting Racism Raises Self-Esteem

by Guest Contributor Jenn, originally published at Reappropriate


New America Media posts a story about a study that looked at methods for coping with racism. Scientists surveyed nearly 200 Filipino Americans, and found that 99% of those surveyed had experienced at least one form of everyday racism in the last year. More importantly, those who reported the incident to authorities, or who directly confronted the perpetrator, experienced reduced anxiety and heightened self-esteem in the wake of the incident.

Coming up with a plan to respond to racism may foster a “you can do it’ attitude, a sense of empowerment that buffers against distress and feelings of victimhood,” Alvarez says. Coping by confiding in friends and family was found to increase men’s psychological distress and lower their selfesteem. The authors believe this surprising finding suggests that seeking social support may not always be helpful — particularly if talking about racism implies that the situation is unchangeable or if it causes a person distress by having to relive difficult experiences.

“What’s striking is we found that racism is still happening to Filipinos,” Alvarez says. “Therapists need to look beyond the frequent portrayal of Asian Americans as model minorities and help clients assess what their best coping strategy could be, depending on their resources, what’s feasible and who they could turn to for support.”

In a way, these findings are not surprising. From my own personal experiences, choosing to ignore a racist incident or being denied the opportunity to respond leads to a great deal of personal anxiety and private recrimination. I re-play the incident over and over in my head, trying to come up with different ways that I could have dealt with the situation differently. But, on the other hand, it takes a great deal of courage to confront someone about their racism.

I remember one incident where electroman and I were walking through a Dillard’s on our way to a mall. We were minding our own business when a salesperson walked up to electroman, and asked if she could help us. We said “no” and kept walking — after all, we weren’t there to shop. As we walked away, the girl yelled after us, “well, just so you know, our urban section is over there.”

Wait, what?

Just because electroman is a tall, African-American man in his late-twenties, we must automatically be looking for the latest line of Rocawear? A Black man can’t be in Dillard’s shopping for a suit, or a polo shirt, or a nice pair of dress slacks — no, he must be looking for over-sized T-shirts and baggy jeans?

To be honest, the comment didn’t initially register with me and it took me a few seconds to realize what the saleswoman had said, but electroman was immediately, and understandably, furious. We walked out of Dillard’s, and stopped to figure out what to do. I was angry — not only because this salesclerk had so rudely racialized electroman, but that this was an example of a how a casual racist could so quickly destroy the day of a person of colour; we were late meeting with friends for a shopping trip and now we would have to take more time out of our schedule to report this sales clerk. As a compromise, electroman went back into Dillard’s to find the manager — I (being less good with direct confrontation than electroman) would go inform our friends as to what happened.

Later on, electroman told me what had happened. The manager was apologetic to electroman, although defensive of her sales clerk, while the clerk insisted that her comment was innocent. Electroman politely informed the manager that the clerk’s behaviour was not professional or conducive to actually making sales, and left the store.

This was sufficient closure for both electroman and I on this matter, but I can only imagine how furious electroman would have been for the remainder of the day had he not had an opportunity to confront the clerk and her manager about the incident.

Nonetheless, it still strikes me as frustrating that the onus is on us, as people of colour, to report and confront racists. Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the racists to… y’know… not be racist?