How you could be part of the change this International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination!

Before I even start this blogpost I’d first like to recognise my own privilege as a white cis South African male. Understanding my gender, racial and cultural privileges and how they’ve informed the formulation and output of this blogpost is extremely important to me. This may be a challenging post to read for some and I do not consider myself an expert on this topic given my lived experiences, so I welcome your feedback. 

My goal in recognising my own privilege  is to create space to honour the voices of clients, friends and chosen family from a wide range of identified races. The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21st. 

This day serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle to eliminate racism and discrimination in all forms. Growing up in a country severely wounded by discrimination there’s so much healing that ought to take place. While progress has been made in many areas, there is still much work to be done.

Racism and discrimination can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and well-being. The experience of racism can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and trauma. It’s at these moments when a client seeks out mental health or any other medical services that they’re subjected to institutionalised racism. 

I’ve heard experiences of people being excluded from accessing services because a stereotype of a racial group, religion or culture was practised. Moreover many societal systems and practices are developed from a white male vantage point. 

Not being heard or understood can lead to a sense of isolation and disconnection from one’s community and can result in lower self-esteem and self-worth. Often internalised institutionalised racism can lead to stereotypes being reinforced within groups.

One of the most challenging aspects of racism and discrimination is the way it can affect one’s sense of identity. I recall a young client of colour who at 8 years old, voiced confusion as to why people thought her to be an “angry” and “ugly” child, due to the colour of her skin and her agitated reactions to people touching her hair or braids. She was referred to therapy ‘to fix her aggressive behaviours’. This was one of the first instances where she was othered because of the colour of her skin. In this case, the therapeutic space was used to validate her experiences and celebrate her beautiful brownness through art, dance and music she adored from her culture. 

When a person experiences racism, they may begin to question their sense of self and their place in the world. I see this across the age span of individuals I work with. This experience can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion with some even questioning their cultural, spiritual and heritage beliefs. 

Psychologically minded approaches to addressing racism and discrimination focus on increasing awareness and understanding of how these experiences impact individuals and communities. 

This isn’t just “tick box” team building exercise or workshop, it involves action. This includes understanding the ways in which systemic racism and discrimination are embedded in our social structures, policies, and practices.

It is also essential to recognise the role that individuals play in perpetuating racism and discrimination, whether consciously or unconsciously. This means acknowledging our own biases and prejudices and working to overcome them through education, self-reflection, and action. The author of ‘Check Your Privilege’ Myisha Hill, advises us to ‘lean into discomfort’. 

For my clients however, as a psychologically minded art therapist and counsellor, I adopt evidence-based approaches when providing treatment and interventions, this includes being culturally and racially aware as a practitioner. Intervention often involves developing supportive networks, engaging in self-care activities, and finding healthy ways to cope with the stress and trauma associated with experiencing racism and discrimination. 

Below I suggest 5 simple yet effective ways that you can be part of a change today. 

Educate yourself: Educate yourself about the history of racism and discrimination and the ways in which it continues to impact individuals and communities today. This can include reading books, watching documentaries, attending workshops or seminars, and engaging in discussions with people from diverse backgrounds.

Challenge racism: Speak up when you witness racism or discrimination in your daily life. This can include calling out offensive jokes or comments, questioning biased attitudes and beliefs, and standing up for those who are being unfairly treated.

Support marginalised communities: Show your support for marginalised communities by actively seeking out opportunities to learn from and engage with people from diverse backgrounds. This can include attending, participating and respecting cultural events, supporting local businesses owned by people of colour, and advocating for policies that promote equity and inclusion.

Check your own biases: Reflect on your own biases and prejudices and work to overcome them. This can include taking an implicit bias test, seeking feedback from people of different backgrounds, and consciously challenging your own assumptions and beliefs.

Practice empathy and kindness: Treat everyone with empathy and kindness, regardless of their race or ethnicity. This can include actively listening to people’s experiences, offering support and encouragement, and building relationships based on mutual respect and understanding.

I hope through blog posts like this we can continue to shift perspectives and practices.

Ultimately, eliminating racism and discrimination requires a collective effort. It requires a commitment to creating a more just and equitable society for all individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. By working together to raise awareness, build resilience, and promote social justice, we can create a world in which everyone feels valued, respected, and safe.

To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us