Racial and Ethnic Effects on Identity and Self-Esteem

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Identity is a multi-level term that can refer to who a person is, how they view themselves, how other people see them, and characteristics that differentiate them from others. This is multi-level because it goes beyond just a name, but frames a person's entire perception of themselves and the world around them. Their judgement and awareness outside of themselves is framed by how they see and analyze things, their social lens. A person takes on many aspects of identifiers such as their culture, where they live, or their race and ethnicity. Whether the identifiers are chosen or ascribed, over the course of their existence will impact many aspects of their life.

        A person's perception of themselves can begin from an early age, or may come to light later on but for certain, this level of self-awareness will appear at some point in life. From the moment one is born, they are given a specific set of circumstances that will frame their view of the world forever. A baby can either be born into a family of wealth, or one that is either struggling or slightly above; while a baby is not aware nor cares for the economic climate of their environment, once the child becomes aware of their position, their life view will be guided by this fact. Children growing up around financial instability either grow up humble and conscientious of their spending, while others can grow up to compensate for living in poverty by spending more than they can afford. The same applies to children raised in wealth; some will be responsible with money while others will spend without remorse due to always living in a position of having money. While these facts may be common knowledge for some, it is not a conversation commonly had. Maybe it is because people do not want to have the conversation of why their childhood framed their adulthood, or maybe it is just too uncomfortable to talk about without someone getting offended. While a conversation of the effects of economy may be unsettling for people, a conversation far more rare is Race. It is almost common-knowledge that racism is still prevalent in current society, yet conversations about its impacts seem like a secret.  Despite it not being talked about, it is a fact that race and ethnicity play a key role in a person's perception and self-identity. Racial and ethnic identity impacts a person's life psychologically, physically, and socially.

        Race and Ethnicity impacts a person psychologically because of its impact on a person's self-image. In the past century, people have seen segregation and discrimination, to integration and what some will call the end to Racism, but that statement is far from the truth. Racism has only slightly been erased, this is because it is so mainstream and institutionalized that sometimes will go unnoticed, or unspoken. What starts out as double-locking your car in a relatively bad neighborhood just in case turns to a distrust of anyone who does not look like you or act like you. The most frequent and prevalent victim of this subtle use of racism is people of color who will be discriminated against because of the old-age idea that people of color are criminals or animals that need to be locked up, or are societal trash. These images did not just start but have been painted since the beginning of slavery, the beginning of imperialism, since the beginning of the era of depicting distorted images to sway the view of the ignorant, or the unaware. Stories such as Marco Polo's account of the people he encountered on his venture to China, stories such as those painted by conquistadors who were sent to conquer land, kill and control the people, and recite what was seen on these foreign lands. Stories that are still told today by police such as shooting at unarmed black men for being a threat to the officers safety. The dehumanizing images have impacted everyone in history and even in modern times.  People of color are criminals; rapists, drug dealers, trash.

In modern times the racism manifests itself in avoiding people of color, in not hiring them for jobs, in considering them as trouble. While many may not admit it, people have let these images cloud their judgement.  Psychologically, this impacts a person by making them feel inferior, by making them feel they have to work twice as hard for the same or lesser opportunities. Sociologists say that a sense of self develops from an early stage, children under one year start responding to their names when called by other individuals and in society as children grow up they see themselves as separate individuals in their families (UK Essays). What happens when a child notices their skin is different than other peoples? What happens when the child notices they are different than others around them? Who tells these children to embrace their differences? Who tells them they are all beautiful? While these questions may be the job of the family to answer, what happens when the child goes back and faces the real world? A world that constantly embraces the idea that white skin is beautiful, that white is the most important. Now this offers a mirror image to the idea of negative images of people of color  impeding the judgement of the dominant race by also clouding the judgement of children on themselves. A society constantly shaming people for being who they are and looking like what they look like breeds a generation of self-hate and a negative view of a person's identity.

          Race and ethnicity impacts an individual's identity physically by painting the idea that changing oneself to look like another is ideal. This idea manifests itself through the media and beauty industry. Through use of racism and prejudicial beliefs that lighter is better, the beauty industry has built a market of skin and hair lighteners, hair relaxers, colored eye contacts, and different forms of surgery. Media enforces the idea of darker skin being not as attractive, but also praising people who get different surgeries to attain the stereotypical black features of bigger lips and butt, as well as building the market for self tanners. So essentially, people are taught that being black makes them inferior, but their characteristics are preferred as long as they are on a white individual. This leaves an impact on how children of color view themselves and develop their self-identity by making them lesser than the dominant race and continually bringing them down. So when a child learns to dislike themselves, they are beginning the process of self hatred, a process where they will then try to change themselves to fit the impossible mold of fitting in with the dominant race.

           Race and ethnicity of people of color impacts an individual's identity socially by breaking down their self worth and institutionally belittle them. From a young age children are fed with images of white children in the books they read, in the television they watch, and the magazines they see. When a child feels that they cannot connect to someone else, or they are not represented in media, they start to feel left out. But what happens when they grow up? What happens when a person's whole life is plastered with the idea that white is better, and others are criminals or outsiders? They start to feel they belong in the latter category where they will fall into the stereotypes, or be considered as less than their white counterpart. It is not commonly spoken about how people of color have to work harder for opportunities, in a world where they are seen as trouble, they have to work harder to build a presentable resume, they have to make sure their clothes are better and cleaner, and at all costs, avoid ever looking slightly unkempt because the reputation they built will be shattered by one off-day. But that is the circumstances that have taken hundreds of years to build, where the color of one's skin can make or break their future. Media so often paints the picture of black people being violent, uneducated, and impoverished. While that could be the case for some, as with all other races, but when black people are portrayed that way, they are thrown into this metaphorical pot of what to avoid in life. The only ones that make it out are the ones that work exponentially hard to differ themselves from others while having to continually fight off stereotypes and the judgement of others. When a person of color is educated and hardworking, they are portrayed as trying to be white. While on the other hand if you are unable to afford higher education, or the nicest suit in stores, you will stay in that mixing pot of, as used by the caste system of India, untouchables. Where they are permanently held down by society.

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Racial and Ethnic Effects on Identity and Self-Esteem. (2020, Mar 23). Retrieved July 20, 2024 , from

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