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Coping with Racism/Discrimination

What is discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when a person is harassed or treated less favorably because of their membership in a particular group. These groups can be based on race/ethnicity, political affiliation, religious affiliation, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability status, socioeconomic status, etc. 

What is racism?

Racism is racial prejudice that has been incorporated into the functions of major institutions, corporations, and social systems such as universities, healthcare organizations, banking, housing, and governmental policies. Racism leads to discriminating against a minority racial/ethnic group while maintaining the benefits and privileges of a majority racial/ethnic group which holds most of the power within the major institutions, corporations, and social systems. When the majority group in power makes decisions based upon racial prejudice, this can lead to unjust sociopolitical barriers and policies against the minority group.

Positive Strategies for Coping with Racism and Discrimination

Build a support network.You are not the only person dealing with race-related stress and connecting with other people with similar experiences and feelings can help you successfully navigate racism. Racism is personally insulting, establishes barriers and is oftentimes rooted in a larger social system. Experiencing racism can cause feelings of isolation and even lead to depression. Friends, and family can lend a listening ear and serve as advocates.

Utilize Your Belief System. If spirituality plays an important role in your life, utilize your belief system as a way to cope with stress. This could involve connecting with others who share your spiritual beliefs, confiding in your spiritual leaders, or participating in your spiritual rituals (e.g., prayer, meditation).

Develop a Positive Cultural Identity. Having a positive cultural identity and strong sense of self is particularly helpful in combating race-related stress. Take courses or read books that focus on the historical experiences and contributions of your cultural group and join organizations that celebrate your cultural norms and ideals.

Affirm Yourself. Experiencing racism and oppression from others can be very self-defeating. Reinforcing your positive aspects is one way to remain in control. When other people treat you poorly because of race, it’s an indication of their ignorance. Taking care of yourself should be primary, so practice healthy habits.

Practice Good Self-Care. In dealing with the pressures of being exposed to racism and discrimination, it can be easy to lose track of the things we need to do to take care of ourselves. Members of marginalized groups may become exhausted, frequently using extra energy to process and combat these experiences. It may sometimes be hard to resist using unhealthy ways to cope, such as using drugs and alcohol excessively, or isolating oneself from the broader community. Taking good care of your physical, mental, and spiritual health will leave you better equipped to cope with the stress of bias, and make empowered choices for yourself.

Challenge Negative Situations. Make positive reinterpretations of negative thoughts and reframe negative situations with a three step process:

  1. Identify negative feelings. For instance, a poor performance evaluation may lead to the negative thought “My employer made a mistake when they hired me.”
  2. Perform a reality check. Understand that your feelings can often distort the reality of the situation. Think of examples that counter the negative thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing. For instance, your employer most likely made their decision because your past job performance fit their hiring criteria. Additionally, one poor performance evaluation does not automatically indicate that you cannot succeed in your job.
  3. Make a positive reinterpretation. You can reframe the initial negative thought by saying “My employer hired me because they believe in my potential to succeed” and “I know I am a highly capable person and I can improve my job performance with additional support.” You can also reframe your experiences with racism with statements such as “This can only make me stronger” or “My elders have gone through this and persevered and so can I.”

Get Empowered.

If you are experiencing racism or discrimination, finding a way to push back is empowering and healthy. It can reduce feelings of depression or helplessness, and give frustration and anger a positive outlet. This will look different for different people in different situations. You might use humor to challenge an offensive statement with a group of friends; get involved in a political or activist cause; blog or get involved with online discussions; or simply offer a differing opinion in a group discussion. Whatever your style, it’s important to have a way to make your voice heard.

Become Involved in Social Action.

Document acts of racism or intolerance. Don’t ignore or minimize your experiences, and think broadly about what could be an act of racism. It doesn’t have to be an overt act (e.g., employer consistently not promoting you or minimizing your contributions, etc). Talk to someone you trust and report it.

Be Strategic in Social Action.

When attempting to change policy or procedures, it is important that you do this effectively by:

  • Be clear about what it is you want to see change.
  • Be clear about how you see that change being implemented.
  • Make sure you talk to the person/department that will most likely be able to get you want you want.
  • Be mindful about timing (e.g., when is it the time to share your experiences and frustrations, when is it time to work on change and demands, when is it time to negotiate).
  • Don’t work in isolation. Get a team so that the work on these tasks aren’t so daunting for any one person.
  • Call people out when you witness acts of injustice and intolerance.
  • Try not to get discouraged. Change doesn’t happen overnight and movements are a long process. Remember that you are one cog in the wheel, and your contribution, no matter how small you may think it is, is a vital component of the movement.
  • Don’t underestimate the power you have to make change. Social action has been instrumental in starting major movements throughout history.

Racism Recovery Plan Steps recommended by the Institution for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture (https://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/schools/lsoe_sites/isprc/pdf/racialtraumaisrealManuscript.pdf


Racial Wellness Toolbox


Describe what you are like when you are managing and responding to racism in a healthy manner.



Daily Maintenance of Centeredness in the Face of Racism

List connections or tools that help you maintain your centeredness in the face of racism. Such items can include, but are not limited to:

a) Review Racial Identity Theory (see Helms);

b) Connect with friends who are equally or better able to engage in conversations about racial awareness;

c) Engage in prayer, spiritual practices or use of mantras;

d) Engage in activism; and

e) Practice self-management, such as healthy eating, exercise, and favorite activities that help you feel centered



Racial Trauma Triggers and Response Plan


List items or experiences that tend to result in racial trauma symptoms (e.g., anger, isolation, sadness). After each item or experience identify a specific centeredness response (e.g., calling a friend, writing in your journal, activism).



Racial Trauma Early Warning Signs & Response Plan

List early warning signs that you are experiencing racial trauma (e.g., body aches, fatigue, anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping) and related ways of coping from your Daily Maintenance of Centeredness (item #2) coping skills list.



Acute Racial Trauma & Response Plan


List signs that you are experiencing acute racial trauma (e.g., hypervigilance; heightened emotional experiences, such as depression, anxiety, and anger, which compromise your ability to engage in chosen activities of work, sleep, or school). Identify an action plan for each item on your list.



Crisis Planning

Ask yourself how you would know if you were experiencing a crisis due to racism (e.g., thoughts of harm to others and/or self; inability to care for self and/or others; acute racial trauma symptoms that last longer than a specified duration). List a person(s) or additional resources to contact in the event you experience such a crisis.



Post Crisis Planning

List ways of reconnecting with yourself and your communities to  regain centeredness in the face of racism.











































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