“You uppity negroes are getting out of place!”: What is the weight of racism on black college students’ mental health?

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Note from : Without a doubt, Brazil has a LLOONNGG ways to go to openly full access to everything society has to offer to black people, but even so, the last decade and half have brought significant changes. Of course we can’t say that all is well and there’s no need for any more struggle as the fact is that, black Brazilians were so little represented in areas that were considered for white elite families and their children, that even having just a few black faces here and there is a huge improvement from just a few decades back. In a previous post, in my own experiences with Brazil that began in late August of 2000, I noticed the near invisibility of black Brazilians at São Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport. But with more black people entering the middle class in the period since the second half of the first decade of the 2000s, it’s quite common to see more black faces in airports across the country. This also applies to college campuses, certain shopping malls, restaurants, etc. Reaction to this rise in black faces in spaces such as mallsairplanes, clubs, buildings, universities, and restaurants has also risen. 

Again, this is not to say that there are masses of non-white faces in these places, but even the small advance makes a noticeable difference. Which leads to another issue. It is often said that poor blacks living in Brazil favelas (slums) and poor neighborhoods don’t actually experience real, open racism because they live a different existence and are a distance away from the lifestyles of the overwhelmingly white middle and upper classes. They are believed to be in “the place” that white society believes they belong. But with access to more of these areas and not being accustomed to the behaviors of these classes that make their discomfort with their presence known, blacks new to these environments are discovering that coping strategies are often necessary to deal with a sort of “fish out of water” experience they must now deal with.

In fact, when they begin their upward climb to success in the “mundo dos brancos” (white world), they often hear phrases that define exactly where these people want to see them return to: Go back to the senzala (slave quarters), they’ll say, or “go back to Africa”. Black Brazilians know that such phrases reveal the threat middle classes feel when black people suddenly get out “the place” that Brazilian society reserves for them because “The Big House freaks out when the senzala learns to read.”

One professor recognizes society’s reaction to Afro-Brazilians ascending in society, what it means and what must be done to deal with these reactions. See the story below. 

What is the weight of racism on students’ mental health?

Prejudice and discrimination can influence academic performance

By Matheus Souza

The reporter who writes this text has black skin – needless to say. Otherwise, you probably would not have imagined it. In the historically elitist spaces that are the Brazilian universities, the imaginary is populated by pessoas brancas (white people). How does this affect students who do not fit this standard?

Since the policies of social inclusion began to be adopted, the profile of university students has been changing. At USP (University of São Paulo), between 2018 and 2019, the number of self-declared preto (black), pardo (brown) or indigenous participants increased from 18.5% to 25.7%, according to a report in the Jornal da USP. In parallel, the discussion on mental health at the university has also grown, but with little emphasis on racial issues.

The academic environment is usually a competitive environment and puts students under constant pressure. For those who are part of minorities, the case of black students, this pressure is accompanied by even more obstacles.

“Upon arriving at public universities, these students have found a hostile environment, as well as a tradition of knowledge production that is based on Eurocentric references,” explains Professor Alessandro de Oliveira dos Santos, from the Instituto de Psicologia (Institute of Psychology) (IP) at USP. This causes a sense of non-belonging that can result in avoidance, a drop in academic performance and psychological problems.

Mateus Costa, a student of the sixth year of Medicine, knows this feeling. Despite never having suffered any case of prejudice from his colleagues or teachers, he says that on some occasions he felt uncomfortable for being black. “You sometimes perceive that that space may not be for you, or that that context, things that people talk about, do not apply to you, because of the difference in reality and life experience that people have,” says the student.

Research points out problems

A study published in 2018 in the journal Interfaces Brasil/Canadá, conducted by Professor Alessandro and two other researchers, describes the experiences of 15 black women at USP, ranging from the inability to circulate in some places to losing academic opportunities because they need to work. The testimonials are very similar to what the students interviewed by the report said.

Professor Alessandro é especialista em relações étnico-raciais. Foto - Jade Rezende
Professor Alessandro is a specialist in ethnic-racial relations

“When they changed the employees of the department’s gate, every time I got there at a time when I was a new employee, they asked me for my card. I was already in my third year,” says Catarina Ferreira, a journalism student. It was after entering college that she realized she needed psychological treatment.

The study highlights that prejudice and discrimination can range from low self-esteem to narcotization and psychiatric disorders.

In the research, women also talked about affectivity, and the realization that they are not often seen by men as a possibility for relationships. This solidão da mulher negra (solitude of the black woman), common in society, can be even more marked within the university environment, as Leticia Lé, a Law student, puts it.

She says this was one of the topics discussed at the first meeting of Angela Davis, a newly founded black feminist collective at the Law School. “People see you as either an endless source of knowledge about politics and racial agendas, an information post, or the person they’re going to pick up on Friday night,” Leticia says. “And it’s not just me who feels it, it was a general feeling of the girls.”

Currently, Professor Alessandro develops a research that will analyze the possibilities for the well-being of black students in higher education. “Bem viver” (well-being) is a broad concept that involves improving the quality of life, as well as access to quality education, decent work and other aspects, from a less individualized point of view, which also thinks about collective well-being and sustainable development.

After the conclusion of the research, it is expected that the results can contribute to the creation of permanence policies geared specifically to this group.

Social change and individualization

In the Department of Public Health, research relates socio-cultural factors to psychic suffering

The “epidemic” of mental illness does not happen in a vacuum, it is also a reflection of a set of sociocultural factors. Thiago Marques Leão, PhD in Public Health at USP, analyzes some of these factors in his post-doctoral research “Social Changes, Individualization and Psychic Suffering among University Students”, still in progress.

According to the researcher, the social changes of the last decades have transformed the main basic institutions of modern society. “The traditional family, for example, consisted of a man who works, a woman who gives birth, and children who take on certain functions upon reaching the work placement. The very expansion of capitalism implies that women leave home and work, which already begins to deconstruct what this family is,” he explains. The dissolution of this traditional model, in turn, results in individuals with less support or social support.

Several other areas, such as labor relations, sexuality and gender notions, underwent similar transformations. In this new context, the collective ways of dealing with the problems produced by society are increasingly being deposited in individuals.

According to the hypothesis raised by the researcher, the university environment is a great example of the impact caused by these changes. “What was once a collective and institutional issue, such as student permanence, is increasingly manifested as guilt or individual responsibility: it is the student who does not work hard enough, does not get up early enough, does not get organized enough for things to work out,” says Thiago.

“And it’s not just an external attribution of guilt, we also attribute blame individually, and I think that somehow lies at the core of why one becomes increasingly sick at the university.”

In the case of black students, the black population is more exposed to a series of social and political conflicts: gentrification, poverty, low access to schooling, physical and symbolic violence, etc. Therefore, they are also exposed to more situations of self-blame. “Following the line of reasoning, that these contradictions and difficulties are deposited in individuals, on certain populations this will be even more deposited,” explains the researcher.

At the same time, black students are among the most organized in the university environment. This occurs mainly through collectives, which turn out to be safe spaces in which these students feel comfortable sharing their anguish and dealing with them together. “If we consider that part of this suffering is related to the difficulty of collectivizing conflicts, this organization is very positive.”

For Thiago, the emphasis that the mental health agenda has received is a positive sign that society is willing to discuss the issue. However, the discussion still takes place in order to reinforce the idea that this is a matter of individual responsibility. “The individual clinic is very important and relevant, but thinking that this by itself alone will solve the problem is wrong.”

Source: Jornal do Campus

 

About Marques Travae 3088 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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