by Saba Aqel.


The surge in uprisings around the country is a direct response to the horrific police killing of George Floyd, and this is one of many atrocious police killings of Black people. Police brutality and the killings of Black lives at the hands of cops and non-law enforcement affiliated individuals continue at disproportionate rates (Sinyangwe, McKesson, & Packnett-Cunningham, 2020). The national uprising led by Black communities across the nation express anger, sadness, despair, helplessness, rage, and so much more. This brings up the important questions of the ways in which racism impacts the mental health of Black individuals and communities. An individual’s mental health is impacted by various factors and disparities. Of those is not the individual’s doing or responsibility, but the context in which they exist. Biology is considered to be amongst those factors; however, mental illness is more often onset by external factors and disparities such as:  socioeconomic factors, safety in physical spaces, family history, and life experiences. 

 Socioeconomic status (SES) is a strong predictor for mental health and wellbeing and it encompasses income, educational attainment, financial security, and subjective perceptions of social status and social class (APA, 2017; Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000). Discrimination and marginalization can hinder upward mobility for ethnic and racial minorities seeking to escape poverty (APA, 2017). Large gaps in education attainment and outcomes remain in comparison to white Americans (APA, 2017).  Additionally, Institutional discrimination creates barriers to health care access, and cultural racism reduces the quality of care they do receive (Williams & Mohammed, 2013). Black people and other minorities are disproportionately more likely to experience low SES, lack of safety in physical spaces, and racially traumatic life experiences than White people (APA, 2017; OMH, 2016). In addition, Black folks may experience the stigma of Black inferiority, which results from the normative cultural characterization of White supremacy. This is often internalized by Black individuals as an attack on the ego identity which results in low self-worth, and feelings of powerlessness which impact the functioning of black individuals in their professional, personal, and social livelihoods (Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000). 

We must have an understanding that the context within which the individual exists impacts their mental health and wellbeing and to further ourselves from placing it within the individual. Minorities who have experienced discrimination experience psychological distress including higher rates of depression, anxiety, and trauma (Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000). Black Americans experience higher rates of discrimination, disproportionately more psychological distress, and higher rates of disability due to mental health struggles. Psychological distress for Black Americans is reported 20% more than white Americans, and barriers to reporting mental health issues most likely deflate this rate (OMH, 2016). 

Negative stereotypes and attitudes of rejection have historically decreased, but continue to occur with measurable, adverse consequences in our society (OMH, 2016). Racism is defined by beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and institutional and systemic approaches that subjugate, oppress and devalue groups based on their skin color or ethnoracial background (Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000). It is also the deployment of power against groups perceived as inferior at both the individual and institutional levels (Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000). In America, racism stems from a long history of White supremacy which is a political and socio-economic system in which White folks view themselves as superior and benefit from structural advantages and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level. White Supremacy exists in overt (KKK, Lynching, racial slurs, etc.), and covert ways (racial profiling, euro-centric educational system, microaggressions, hiring and housing discrimination, differential treatment, etc.). Black individuals are significantly more likely to experience racial macroaggressions, microaggressions, structural/institutional racism, and internalized racism (APA, 2017). 

As a society, it is important for us to acknowledge that anti-blackness exists and that non-black individuals benefit from and perpetuate racism beyond the barriers of consciousness. We must allow ourselves to begin the process of unlearning racism by acknowledging and understanding that White supremacy remains alive and well within our socio-political systems- that it impacts minorities, and more severely, Black communities in America. The acceptance of this reality allows us to constantly hold a mirror to reflect on the ways we perpetuate this harm in our thoughts and behaviors. In doing so, non-Black individuals begin the process of making a lasting and humble commitment to dismantling racism on an individual and sociopolitical level. Such a commitment begins by listening, unlearning, checking our privilege, and challenging our values and beliefs no matter the difficulty. We can also do work to empower and advocate in our communities and on a sociopolitical level. This work looks like assisting organizations helping further the cause to make a commitment to vote out individuals who perpetuate the harms of racism and White supremacy.  




Taking Action:

— Black Lives Matter:, @BLMChi

— Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression:, @CAARPRNow

— American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):

— How to support BLM movement with no money/without leaving your home:

— Register to vote :

— Contact information for state and local representatives:

— Chicago Bond Fund:

MYBLOCKMYHOODMYCITY is a small business relief fund in Chicago.

–BraveSpaceAlliance is a Black-led, trans-led organization that provides services and resources to Black LGBTQ individuals and is accepting donations for protestors, businesses, and their continued work.

–Restorative Justice is a site that explains the ideas around restorative justice, provides resources, and ways to get involved.

–Color of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.  You can donate, view active campaigns, and stay up on what is actively happening in the fight for Black justice.

Volunteer or Donate:

— Greater Chicago Food Depository –

— Support black-owned small businesses in Chicago:

— Volunteer or donate to help rebuild affected neighborhoods 

— SOUL (Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation):

— Black Youth Project:


— Code Switch (podcast by NPR):

— JSTOR Daily, Institutionalized Racism, A Syllabus

— List of books about institutionalized racism

— Many more links:


American Psychological Association [APA]. (2017, July). Ethnic and Racial Minorities & Socioeconomic Status. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Mental Health [OMH]. (2016). Mental health and African Americans. Retrieved from

Sinyangwe, S., McKesson, D. R., & Packnett-Cunningham, B. (2020, May 29). Mapping Police Violence . Retrieved from

Williams, D. R., & Mohammed, S. A. (2013). Racism and health I: Pathways and scientific evidence. American Behavioral Scientist, 57, 1152-1173.

Williams, D. R., & Williams-Morris, R. (2000). Racism and Mental Health: The African American experience. Ethnicity & Health, 5(3-4), 243–268. doi: 10.1080/713667453