Effects of Racism on Self-esteem

Written by Dr. Kinette Richards, Ph.D., NCC

Racism is another obstacle on the path to good self-esteem and a healthy body image. Racism is a belief system that treats one person better than another based on their race, ethnicity, or the color of their skin. In fact, racism is the practice of believing that one race is superior to another one. When people mistreat other people because of their skin color, race, or ethnicity, it has the same kind of effect as when people are discriminated against. However, with racism, it sets people up to believe that they have the right to treat other people as less than themselves or feel like they are better than someone else simply because of their skin color, or racial background.

There are many systems in the world where you can find racism embedded in their policies and practices, this is called systemic racism. Some of these systems include housing, schooling, healthcare, neighborhoods, and policing. For example, when people of color use these systems — want to buy a house in a particular neighborhood, go to a certain school, get medical care, or call the police for help — racism can stop them from getting the fair treatment they deserve. These kinds of practices can chip away at someone’s self-confidence and over time can cause anxiety, distress, anger, lower self-worth, and depression — this all negatively impacts an individual’s self-esteem.

Remember, there are many ways to counter the external challenges you will face in your journey to develop a healthy body image and self-esteem. Since Day 1, you’ve had everything you need within yourself – don’t let the world convince you that you do not. Know that YOU are inherently worthy and have the power to love yourself in the way you desire by making small choices and commitments to yourself everyday. Remind yourself of this truth daily. With practice it will get easier and you will likely start to notice a difference in the way you feel.