Race and ethnicity are the more or less objective terms that describe specific groups of people: the former is based on physical characteristics, and the latter can be used to unite individuals depending on cultural features and nationality (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999; Fitzgerald, 2017). Identity is subjective and refers to a personal perspective on oneself; it can be connected to race and ethnicity, which tend to affect persons’ identities (Fitzgerald, 2017). Racism can be defined as the “beliefs, attitudes, institutional arrangements, and acts that tend to denigrate individuals or groups because of phenotypic characteristics or ethnic group affiliation” (Clark et al., 1999, p. 805). In other words, racism is concerned with both race and ethnicity.
Stereotyping is a form of racism: it describes simplistic but accepted beliefs about groups that are transferred onto their individual members (Gupta, Szymanski, & Leong, 2011). Some stereotypes can appear “positive,” but they remain overgeneralizing and eventually harmful (Baek & Lee, 2012; Chao, Chiu, Chan, Mendoza-Denton, & Kwok, 2013; Gupta et al., 2011). On the other hand, privilege is the outcome of racism that manifests itself in the form of benefits that the dominant group can enjoy (Fitzgerald, 2017). Such benefits can come at the expense of the rights of racial and ethnic minorities, and when they do not, they tend to be exclusively provided to the dominant group while they should be available to everyone (McIntosh, 1988). This system of interacting terms will be applied to my personal experiences of racism and stereotyping.
I am a Hispanic immigrant from Cuba living in the US; I identify as a Hispanic/Caribbean person. My appearance and accent make my ethnicity apparent. While my position as a mental health specialist and college teacher is relatively privileged, I have experienced racism and stereotyping, which have provided me with the reflection skills that I use to avoid stereotyping other people, especially in professional settings.
My Experiences with Racism
In the US, the racism towards its Hispanic population can be evidenced to be institutionalized. An example from my field of expertise is the fact that the Hispanic population is more likely to be medically uninsured than the Non-Hispanic White one (Barnett & Berchick, 2017). Healthcare professionals understand that such disparities are symptomatic of other outcomes of institutionalized racism, including the likelihood of being employed and the level of income (Artiga, Foutz, Cornachione, & Garfield, 2016). Due to my education and field of activity, I recognize the fact that the Hispanic population has reduced access to a variety of goods and opportunities, which indicates institutional racism.
Vasquez (2015) also effectively summarizes the symbolic and interpersonal racism towards the Hispanic population. In fact, I agree with her that the statements of Donald Trump encourage harmful ideas. For example, he promotes the view that Hispanics are “criminals” and illegal immigrants, which, in turn, prompts interpersonal cases of racism. In my community, I enjoy a level of respect due to my position, but outside of it, I can face various negative reactions, including outright hostility. For example, I recall a Non-Hispanic White male looking at me and talking rather loudly about immigrants and illegals who “steal jobs” to his friend.
Stereotyping in My Life
I have been stereotyped, and some of my acquaintances were surprised at the instances when I would not correspond to their expectations. For example, my industrious nature is apparently inconsistent with the belief that the Hispanic population is lazy. Also, people tend to view the Hispanic population as conservative (homophobic, sexist, and so on) in the worst ways imaginable. As a visibly Hispanic person with an accent, I have become familiar with the stereotypes about my ethnicity.
Due to my exposure to the concepts of stereotyping and racism as their target, I have developed a sense of justice rather early. I think that the experience of social injustice is a relatively effective (although inhumane) method of teaching people to recognize differences and not condemn other individuals for them. Some evidence of this statement is also documented in the description of the “blue eyes – brown eyes” exercise for school children developed by Jane Elliot (Hughes, 2014). It involves roleplay, in which students are divided into groups based on their eye color and marginalized to prompt reflection on discrimination (Diemer, Rapa, Voight, & McWhirter, 2016; Hughes, 2014). The exercise demonstrates that after being subjected to unfair treatment, children start to understand inequality better. From my experience, such events helped me to be critical of stereotypes and unjust commentary.
At the same time, I acknowledge the fact that I might have stereotypes and not recognize them because I am not sufficiently familiar with a particular group. I suppose that when I was new to the US, I may have had rather low expectations towards Non-Hispanic White people, assuming that they would be racist. Also, at a point in time, I started to grow Islamophobic, which may have been connected to some form of racism since, for example, the immigrants from Central Asia are particularly likely to be Muslim. This tendency was related to the news about Islamic extremists, and I made a point of segregating my attitudes towards extremism and Islam. Islamophobia may have affected my social and professional life, but I work towards being as stereotype-free as possible because both my professions imply an amount of power over my patients and students. I use reflection and try to be critical towards generalized statements in the hopes of avoiding being racist or stereotypical.
McIntosh’s Privileges and My Privileges
McIntosh (1988) presents a list of privileges or factors of “over empowerment” (dominance) which, in her opinion, the White population experiences when compared to the minorities. The article reflects multiple race dynamics issues, including the representation of minorities in culture, distribution of authority between races, prejudice, racial profiling, disparities in access to services, and some other aspects that seem to remain relevant nowadays. The list can be expanded, structured, or tailored to a specific minority, but it illustrates the fact that minorities do not have access to some opportunities that the dominant group takes for granted. McIntosh (1988) highlights the fact that the privileges are elusive and require extensive reflection to comprehend, but understanding them is crucial to deconstruct the unearned privileges and provide the ones that should be the norm to the minorities as well.
I come from a minority group, and I cannot enjoy the privileges described by McIntosh (1988). However, I have a privileged position in society because I am a mental health professional and college teacher. Indeed, people tend to respect and trust healthcare professionals and teachers, and they can be particularly friendly to me if they know about my occupation. Also, both roles are associated with power, even though ethical codes instruct us to empower students and patients. However, I do not have these privileges because of my race or ethnicity. My Hispanic and Caribbean background, accent, and appearance differ from those of the majority in my environment, which occasionally makes me the target of stereotyping and prejudices.
Reducing Personal Prejudices and Stereotyping: A Conclusion
Most resources that I have found on the topic of reducing prejudice emphasize the role of education in the process (Gushue & Constantine, 2007), and the idea of engaging in a diversity course for the improvement of one’s ability to resist prejudice seems to be an appropriate solution. Other options are also available. Lynch, Swartz, and Isaacs (2017) mention the study of the history of social justice movements and reflection on personal experiences. Hughes (2014) emphasizes the importance of exposing oneself to different cultures in a variety of ways (from field trips to pen friends). However, the author also reports that such experiences may need appropriate framing because an unscaffolded contact with a different culture may actually increase prejudice.
Hughes (2014) discusses school students, which explains the choice of terminology (scaffolding); however, this point is important since it indicates the fact that without a conscious effort to combat prejudice, the mentioned activities maybe not be effective. As shown by McIntosh (1988), this effort is hindered by the fact that racism is deeply ingrained in our society and consciousness. Still, it can be facilitated through reflection. Indeed, Diemer et al. (2016) also highlight reflection and the critical analysis of our social environment, which can be achieved through various forms of inquiry.
The present paper is an example of such inquiry: it helps me to define the key terms that can frame racism and then provides me with an opportunity to apply them to my personal and professional life. McIntosh’s (1988) privilege list is also a helpful tool, even though I am a member of a minority ethnic group and might be more likely to apply it to a different area of privileges. In any case, critical reflection may be a key instrument in reducing personal prejudice, as well as understanding the social injustice issues in modern society, and I intend to proceed to employ it.
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