Every 18th of July, the world commemorates a person who has dedicated his entire life to end South Africa's racist system of apartheid – Nelson Mandela. From being an infamous political prisoner then becoming South Africa’s first black president, Mandela has dismantled racism and has instigated racial reconciliation.
Everything that Mandela stood and fought for should be highlighted and emphasized at all times. Mandela showed absolute determination and a deep commitment to pursue justice, human rights, and freedom. He was unyielding in his goal for dialogue and solidarity. Even though he is known as a fierce advocate for equality, he has shown that it is indeed possible to usher in a peaceful transition to democracy.
But the work is not yet done. Mandela was known for his line: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Mandela himself had shared in his autobiography, “The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.” He has become a symbol of hope, an epitome of the power of resisting oppression and choosing forgiveness over hatred.
Mandela was also quoted to have said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Sure enough, racial discrimination in all its dark facets and horrors will result in deep-rooted hatred. But Mandela must have known the effect of resentment on one’s mental health. His advocacy to foster peaceful racial reconciliation is worth promulgating and emulating.
Poisonous indeed, more poisonous than the act of racial bigotry itself. Yes, experiencing racial discrimination and injustice can result in a crippling emotional toll. Moreover, it has been shown to trigger chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and racial trauma.
Fostering change through channeling one’s anger and resentment into something constructive and peaceful to elicit meaningful change is a form of self-care. The fight against racial prejudice is far from over, and it has become more than just a fight against injustice – it has also expanded to become a fight for self-preservation.
So how does one fight for self-preservation in the midst of racial prejudice? Here are a few strategies.
Open up to others and share your pain. You are not alone in experiencing racial discrimination. But your healing and resilience are your primary responsibility. Hence, honestly share your experiences with others, and find a community with the same ideals as yours.
Love and accept yourself. Embrace your ethnicity. Get to know your ancestors and roots. Discrimination is rooted in ignorance. Know the history of your race, and embrace your heritage. Knowing yourself better will increase your self-esteem and give you a better self-image. This will increase your ability to shield yourself from the demeaning effect of ignorance and racial prejudice.
Channel your anger properly. Do not give in to your rage. Instead, direct it into creative pursuits.
Find reasons to be optimistic and grateful. Racial injustice and oppression foster intense negativity into one’s life, ushering in anxiety and depression. However, acknowledging even the tiniest bit of change can be good for your mental health. Being happy that little by little, the message is being heard and that more white people have become cognizant of the harsh inequalities existing in society. Banking on these little glimmers of hope can be helpful for your mental health.
And last but not least – take care of yourself. Change does not occur overnight – and that is precisely why the world needs you. It is a mission that requires perseverance and resilience, and even Mandela knows that the quest is “just beginning.” The fight needs people who are mentally equipped to face the atrocities of society.
Let us remember how someone named Nelson Mandela made his mark and left a legacy, inspiring change. And it can begin with you.