How Knowing Your Identity Can Help When You’re Faced With Discrimination

By Tiffany Eve Lawrence

Many young Black people know how painful it is to deal with discrimination, whether they experience it directly, see their friends and family endure it, or watch it play out across their social media feeds. When it happens, it can leave you questioning your behavior.

  • Why would they treat me like that?
  • What did I do? Why did I react like that?
  • What can I change about myself to be treated better?

It’s human nature to have these questions, but you have done nothing to deserve mistreatment. 

Being connected to your racial identity and having pride in your ethnicity have been shown to be a type of protection, especially for Black youth. It can act as a buffer against the negative impacts of discrimination. 

In a study from the Gallup Center on Black Voices, one in five Black college students said they experience discrimination at school. That can trigger mental health challenges that include symptoms of depression, anxiety, and imposter syndrome. It can affect your self-esteem by making you question your worth or wish you weren’t Black. But research shows that taking on the positive messages connected to Blackness improves self-esteem and resilience

Racial discrimination is not a monster you can tear down by yourself, but it’s important to equip yourself with the tools to protect your mental health when you face it. Having a strong awareness of your identity can be a shield. Here’s how:

Proactivity Is Protection

People are often reactive and take steps toward understanding the value of their racial identity after experiencing prejudice. But you can be proactive by learning about your heritage so your pride in your ancestry can protect your self-image against acts of discrimination and minimize the damage of unjust treatment. 

Recognize Discrimination for What It Is, and Don’t Let It Define You

Racism and discrimination are vehicles used to blind the Black community from understanding their value. With a better understanding of your identity, you can see that who you are doesn’t change based on the way you’re treated by society. Your intelligence, compassion, and strength don’t go away just because someone else does not value them.

Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Sometimes people beat themselves up for not having the perfect response to a moment of discrimination. They may replay it in their mind and blame themselves for not being smart enough or brave enough. 

When you understand that discrimination is about the oppressor and there is nothing about yourself that you need to change, you won’t attack yourself for not responding a certain way. That helps you eliminate some of your own messaging that can be harmful, so you don’t get stuck in memories of what you didn’t say or do.

No one should have to feel the sting of discrimination, but you can’t control if and when it happens. You can, however, equip yourself to protect your mental health when it does. The more secure you are in your identity, the less of an impact discrimination will have on you.

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