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The Effect of Racism and Inequality on Mental Health

For BIPOC folks in the United States, being subject to racism and other systemic inequalities or expectations can have negative effects on mental health.


Systemic inequalities have been present in the United States for hundreds of years, and while much progress has been made over time there is still much more work to be done. Often the material effects of racism are examined in the media, for example, hate crimes, protests, and directed racial slurs. The media often refrains from covering the effect that these material and non-material events have on BIPOC people and in specific, their mental health.

In a peer-reviewed journal written by psychologists from the University of South Carolina, racism is described as a “chronic stressor.” Due to the pervasiveness of racism in society at an institutional level, BIPOC people do not only experience racism in the material forms discussed previously, but in many different ways. As explained in this journal, stress is a function of both the occasion or object causing the discomfort, and also what actions the individual can take to fix the problem or reduce the stress. In the case of systemic racism, the individual can do very little to combat or reduce the effects of the issue, making the stress even more palpable. This leads to racism becoming a chronic issue in the mental health of every BIPOC person.

While racism is present for everyone that is non-white, it affects each group differently due to the different stereotypes, socioeconomic statuses, and expectations that come along with different racial identities. For example, despite the fact that both Black and Asian Americans will often face hate speech or crimes against their communities, Asian Americans are less likely to report incidents due to cultural norms, and fear of embarrassment. Asian Americans are also less likely than Black Americans to seek professional help. This means that tackling race-based mental health issues can be incredibly nuanced, and there is no one answer to making sure that BIPOC people are receiving the care that they need.

Racism is built into the infrastructure of America, but it is also heavily ingrained in the world of sports from football to soccer and even the Olympics. In soccer particularly, racism from fans is sadly more common than anyone would like to believe. In 2014 Black Italian player Mario Balotelli was brought to tears during a match as fans sang racist chants. In American Football there was and still is a major stigma surrounding Black quarterbacks and coaches, and for a long time, Black men were barred from the positions due to racism. In the Olympics, numerous African women have been barred from competing due to high testosterone levels, despite the fact they are women like any other competitor.

Advocates, players and their communities have helped improve these situations, but the inherent racism that lies within our sports and country is not only reprehensible but takes a significant mental toll on athletes and all BIPOC folks.


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