10 healthy strategies youth can use to cope with racial discrimination

Bernadette Sanchez

Bernadette Sanchez

By Bernadette Sánchez, PhD.

A number of years ago, my colleagues David L. DuBois, Naida Silverthorn, and Julia Pryce, and I developed an evidence-based intervention curriculum, GirlPOWER!, for adolescent, African American and Latina female mentees and their adult female mentors at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago. I contributed to parts of the intervention that were most relevant to race and ethnicity. One of the things we developed was a handout for mentees and mentors on how youth can cope with racial discrimination in healthy ways. Below is an adapted list of what we developed that would be useful for programs to share with their mentors working with youth of color[1].

There are many things youth can do to deal with racial prejudice and discrimination in a healthy way. Mentors and mentees can do many of these things together. They can also help each other choose which things are best to do in different situations. Here are some ideas:

  1. Get help: Don’t go through it alone. Get support from friends, family, and your mentors. Tell people what you are going through. They can give you good advice about how to handle the prejudice or discrimination.
  2. Talk it out: Talk with the person who was prejudiced toward you about what happened and how it made you feel. However, this could make things worse. It is important to first figure out if it’s safe to do this.
  3. When necessary, ignore it: Sometimes it might not be worth it to confront the person who is being prejudiced toward you. In some situations, you might want to simply ignore what happened and move on.
  4. Don’t fall for the stereotype: When people discriminate against you, don’t take it personally. It does not mean that there is something wrong with you or your racial/ethnic group. Tell yourself something positive about who you are and about your racial/ethnic group. Try listing out all the reasons why negative beliefs or attitudes about you or racial/ethnic group are wrong.
  5. Remind yourself of the positives: Remember all the positive things about your racial or ethnic group and be proud! Don’t let others bring you down.
  6. Turn to your spirituality or religion: Meditate or pray about your experience.
  7. Exercise: Do your favorite type of exercise to release negative feelings you have because of the prejudice or discrimination against you.
  8. Do something fun: Perhaps you have a hobby or something fun that you like to do that you really enjoy and would make you feel better.
  9. Express yourself creatively: Express how you feel through writing a poem, story, song or rap or through journaling.
  10. Be flexible: Deal with different experiences of prejudice and discrimination in different ways. You might use talking it out for one situation, but getting help or exercising might be best for another.

[1] I’d like to thank my colleague, Dr. Noni Gaylord-Harden, at Loyola University Chicago, who is an expert on coping in urban, low-income African American youth and provided feedback on this list of healthy coping strategies.