All Discrimination Is Damaging, Regardless of Race

Discrimination can cause significant psychological pain. People who are discriminated against because they are visibly different from others must continue to come to terms with their physical appearance despite their perceived differences. Racial and ethnic prejudice still occurs in societies throughout the world, as does discrimination against people with disabilities. Other forms of commonly practiced prejudice are against people with varying religious, sexual, or cultural beliefs. Regardless of the type of discrimination, the damage that it causes can be severe. People who experience intolerance and prejudice are at increased risk for developing negative coping strategies, such as substance misuse, aggression, depression, anxiety, fear, and posttraumatic stress.

Although one of the most common types of discrimination is racially motivated, individuals of different races can have the same emotional response when discriminated against for reasons other than the color of their skin. In a recent study, David R. Williams, Ph.D., of the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at Harvard University’s School of Public Health in Boston evaluated the perception and effect of discrimination in a sample of White and African American individuals to determine whether the psychological and physical result would be the same. The 100 participants included poor and affluent adults from four separate neighborhoods of varying socioeconomic status (SES).

Williams asked the participants about the types of discrimination they experienced and how they perceived this treatment. The majority, more than 90%, of all the participants clearly described their definition of unfair and unjust treatment and were quite confident that their past discrimination experiences were valid. Interestingly, race was not the common denominator for discrimination. Regardless of their race, those with the lowest SES felt like they had been discriminated against far more than the participants from high SES. Williams said, “Effects were the same whether experiences were attributed to race or to other reasons.” Specifically, these discriminatory events caused angry and frustrated emotional responses for all the participants who felt they had been discriminated against. For those from high SES, the response to perceived prejudice was the same as the response elicited by those with low SES. This finding suggests that regardless of the intention or target of the discrimination, the psychological damage it causes is the same.

Williams, D. R., John, D. A., Oyserman, D., Sonnega, J., Mohammad, S. A. (2012). Research on discrimination and health: An exploratory study of unresolved conceptual and measurement issues. American Journal of Public Health, 102.5, 975-978.

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  • Jayden


    May 21st, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    At various points in time, discrimination has affected us all. Some of us have been discriminated against due to age, race, gender, sexual identity, religion, the list goes on and on. And regardless of who you are or how confident you may be, when this slaps you in the face, it really hurts.

    That is why, when you have felt that kind of hurt yourself, I wonder how you could then turn around and do it to someone else. Take just a moment and think back to just how hurt you felt when you were left to deal with this kind of treatment. It’s not something that will be pleasant for most of us.

    It can happen to anyone, by anyone. I hope that we are beyond the mindset that you can only experience this kind of discrimination if you fit a certain type or mold. It happens to everyone at some time.

  • Oliver


    May 21st, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    I know that the times when I have felt discriminated against, I don’t feel hurt but instead just angry! Who is this person to treat me as if I am less than his equalt just because we don’t look the same or come from the same sort of background?
    Those are people, I have decided, who are not worth me wasting my time or my energy on.

  • Lisa


    May 21st, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    I very much don’t give a flying flip what someone thinks about me.

    If they want to think it, then fine think it.

    But don’t put limits on me and who I have the ability to be. That’s not cool.

  • Jamaica


    May 22nd, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    Don’t you think that for some people this could be a motivator to prove someone wrong? That of course doesn’t make the tactics right, but it could do that for someone as an unintended effect.

  • Andrew


    May 22nd, 2012 at 5:09 PM

    Could just be me, but I think that it is pretty sad that people are still made to feel less than someone else just because of socioeconomic status. The feelings have to have been validated at some point in time for this to be such a constant among many participants in the study.

  • Michael


    May 29th, 2012 at 2:44 PM

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