When the movie Black Panther was released on the big screen it was very well received, particularly by Black people. This overwhelmingly positive response is not simply because it’s a good movie. Instead, it is because it is a symbol that reflects, through its recognition and inclusion, the positive representation of Afro-descendant communities on a large scale. The key takeaway message is that when it comes to individual and collective well-being, a sense of belonging and pride plays an important role. Having a Black superhero, a Black US president, or a Black Governor General in Canada empowers Black people, young and old alike, to believe in their dreams and see themselves breaking through the glass ceiling.
So, what kind of impact can this have on ethnic communities and what can we learn from it in order to encourage a positive ethnocultural identity?
Studies show that the affirmation of one’s cultural identity and a sense of belonging are significant factors in psychological well-being. Beyond improving quality of life, these factors act as a safety net against systemic oppression, all the while strengthening one’s resilience against prejudicial forces happening in many modern social and political sectors.
On the other hand, alienation from one’s culture or uncertainty about one’s sense of self can hinder the positive development of one’s own identity, impacting an individual’s self-esteem as well as that of their cultural group. One of the main reasons why racism is so destructive is that it flatly rejects a person’s entire ethnocultural identity. Consequently, this rejection may be experienced as limiting or even as a weight that a person of color cannot shed. Alienation from one’s own ethnic identity or biased perceptions of one’s origins can weaken self-esteem and lead to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, emotional instability, racial trauma, and suicidal behavior (from suicidal ideation to acts). Yes! All the above!
Within that same idea, we understand that mental health can be subject to many collective and individual influences. Ethnicity, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, and language all contribute significantly to how we view the world and how we view mental health problems. They also guide therapeutic approaches. Racial socialization also plays a major role.
Racial socialization is the way in which individuals create a safe space to teach and share cultural references to strengthen pride within their community ultimately. It is most often done subconsciously and instinctively. For example, it happens daily through family interactions. Part of this racial socialization can be observed in the way we dress, eat, behave, and express ourselves. But it can also be more explicit and direct, told through ancestral stories, proverbs, shared life experiences, or advice from elders.
When it’s done in a positive way, racial socialization raises awareness and grounds a person to their ethnic identity. It does this by conveying messages focused on the positive aspects of the community, giving reasons to feel proud (through art, scientific or athletic achievements, the community’s friendliness, courage, etc.). It also allows members of a community who share experiences (through humor, food, music, dance, etc.) to recharge their batteries. It also promotes strategies for resilience that can be passed down from generation to generation (rituals, language, spirituality, etc.). So, it promotes cultural integrity and identification with one’s community.
Racial socialization can also be seen as the heart of a safe haven, a place where members can exchange ideas and learn about the structural inequalities and systemic oppression that impact the life of a racialized person. Racial socialization allows that person to find comfort among those who have gone through the same painful experiences. It makes one feel less alone. Unfortunately, most micro-aggressions tend to go unnoticed or are minimized. Not just by those who are on the receiving end, but also by the micro-aggressors themselves. Dismantling and reducing the impact of a micro-aggression requires considerable cognitive effort on the part of the victim. Racial socialization makes this possible. It allows people to decolonize their thoughts and reconnect to their culture and heritage.
Furthermore, studies show that, through racial socialization, young adults have a better engagement with their community, have improved socio-emotional skills, and do better in school.
It can be done in numerous ways, including via messages, behaviors, and planned activities. The important thing is to own your past; to re-establish your identity as a Black person in order to have a full and flourishing future.
A strong ethnic identity increases self-esteem, reduces the effects of discrimination, and reduces the risk of marginalization. Racial socialization allows individuals to develop with confidence and reach a psychological balance for their personal development, as well as that of their community. It’s a win-win model that deserves to be nurtured for the psychological and social well-being of all.
With over twenty years of training and practice in psychology and her innate ability to establish an immediate connection with people, Régine Tardieu-Bertheau, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, LPs, focuses on an intuitive understanding of the needs and emotions of her clients in order to better help them on their individual journeys.
Her work as an Ethno-therapist at the Transcultural Pediatric Clinic at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital gave her, among other things, the opportunity to grow close and get to know the many ethnic communities living throughout Montreal. Her mission is to break taboos and bring global awareness to questions around mental health and well-being.
Régine is a member of the Order of Psychologists of Quebec (OPQ), a clinical internship supervisor at the University of Montreal, and the founder of Professionnel Alter-Natives Inc.
Stéphanie Camilien, Clinical Nurse, OIIQ is a student nurse practitioner (EIPSSM) specializing in mental health at the IUSMM since 2017. During her graduate studies, she developed an interest in learning best practices around preventive health and culturally congruent educational approaches to empower individuals through self-management of their symptomatology.