The Psychology of Racism


Hi everyone.  It’s Doctor Jamie here.  Like many of you, I was deeply saddened to hear of the murder of George Floyd a short time ago.  I’m well aware that being a white middle class male, there’s a huge amount of privilege that comes with that, so much so that I can’t even begin to fathom what it must be like for people of colour that don’t have that same privilege.

There was an Australian reporter who was covering some of the events happening in America, who said to someone, “Well, you know, we don’t have racism like that over here in Australia.”  And, you know, that’s simply not true.  Today is the last day of National Reconciliation Week.  And there was a Royal Commission into deaths of aboriginals in police custody done in 1991, so almost 30 years ago now.  Since then there have been even more deaths of aboriginals in police custody.  We have massive overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the prison system, in the child safety system and people that commit suicide.

We know that, you know, right at the turn of the century, we had the White Australia policy, and since then things haven’t gotten a whole lot better.  There is a large proportion of the population, and I have to put myself in this category, who are just ignorant, who just do not know enough about the effects of systemic racism and oppression on people, and the massive amount of hurt and intergenerational trauma that goes with that.  This is bigger than a psychological issue, it’s a societal one.  But I will say for anyone out there, if you’re a parent or an educator, anyone that has any kind of influence on young people, please, please, please teach them about kindness, inclusion, equality.

Young minds are so much more pliable and malleable and mouldable than older minds.  So if we can teach some of these things at a young age, then we might start to see years from now, a shift in the right direction.  If you see people being racist, if you see something unjust happening, if you’re able to, if it’s safe to, call it out.

I mean, I don’t know who took the footage of George Floyd, but I mean we only know what happened because it was caught on film.  In years gone by, it would have been the word of a dead African American man against four police officers. So we only know what happened because someone was able to take that.

I think the riots happening at the moment in America, I understand why they’re going on, and just a fight flight, freeze response.  If you’ve been backed into a corner long enough, if you’ve been oppressed, then you you’re going to react.

Martin Luther King Junior said that riots are the language of the unheard.  And so if we can do our best to try to hear what people of colour are saying, to really hear them, to take the time to listen and understand, hopefully that might – nothing can sort of stop the pain of what has already happened.  But we might be able to lessen some of the future pain that can come from that.

In a few short weeks, you know, this story will be out of mainstream media.  They well have found undoubtedly something else for us to pay attention to.  So I want to say to people that are affected by this, to please don’t be discouraged when there is a drop off of interest and momentum, know that a lot of people stand with you, Blackout Tuesday and everything else that was happening on social media.  Hopefully that shows that although many of us may be ignorant, we do care. And so please let us know how we can help, not just now, but into the future as well.

If you’re angry about this, use it for good, you know, anger, is an adaptive response.  It’s designed to protect us from being mistreated by other people, or to protect those who are being mistreated by other people.  So if you’re angry, use it for good, use it in a constructive way, put that energy to good use.  And I would love to hear from people too, if there are, I guess, books, resources, people, films, any kind of information, websites, petitions, all of those things, that can help inform and educate us on this topic.  Please let me know in the comments below, let’s get a conversation happening so that anyone that wants to find out more about this can take the time to educate themselves.

Thank you. Take care.

Dr Jamie Barnier

About Dr Jamie

I’m a Clinical Psychologist based in Melbourne who helps adolescents and adults cope with overwhelming emotions and remove the need to numb negative feelings through food, alcohol, sex or drugs. I focus on addressing the root cause of the problem with the goal of creating happiness, peace and lasting change.

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