Racism and Discrimination in Rural Communities


Racial segregation, isolation, and institutionalized racism can leave a community without resources for physical and mental health

by Desmond Homann, Unspoken Voices

In America, especially in rural areas, racism, environmental stressors, and discrimination all impact the health and well-being of people of color. This is not just because of the amount of violence that comes along with racism and discrimination, though that is certainly a large issue for marginalized groups, but is also due to isolation and distance from the resources required to keep a community healthy. Places such as good grocery stores, recreational facilities, medical, dental, and mental health facilities, or even just good parks can be too far for some individuals living in rural communities to travel, and therefore can result in poor mental and physical health.

This scarcity of resources for mental health is an often-overlooked problem for marginalized groups. Those who are faced with instances of racism and discrimination can experience great amounts of stress, anxiety, depression, or any other number of mental health conditions. Experiences of racism and discrimination are inherently stressful and harmful, and there is often little support for those who deal with this stress in their everyday lives.

According to a 2015 study conducted by various scholars throughout America and referenced by multiple news sources, the largest problem faced with studies of racism is the measurement of racism itself. Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post states that “if you flat-out ask someone if they're racist, they will simply tell you no.” He also goes on to explain that “that's partly because most racism in society today operates at the subconscious level, or gets vented anonymously online.”

Often, research has to be done solely on self-reported instances of racism and discrimination, which can result in some limitations due to the different ways each person may characterize discrimination. In these studies, some individuals might not report smaller instances of subtle discrimination such as being treated with less respect in conversation or receiving less courteous service in stores and restaurants. Additionally, not all forms of discrimination may have an easily identifiable cause or discriminator. Again, this use of subjective, self-reported data in studies on racism and discrimination can result in inconsistent or confusing findings.

As previously mentioned, racial segregation, isolation, and institutionalized racism can leave a community without resources for physical and mental health. Situations of discrimination and prejudice are different in each geographic area, but are similarly connected throughout the entire country. As humans, we do have a tendency to communicate with, seek out, and interact with others who share similarities with us in any number of ways, but this is no excuse for the amount of segregation and separation seen throughout the US and it is clear that change is needed.

It is not enough for people to call out violent racists or to flock to social media to make fun of videos of someone spewing racist terms. Though actions such as these may make white individuals feel a false sense of comfort or like they have made a change, the reality of the situation is there racism has been a part of America’s history for far too long and that, in order to make even the slightest change, those who do not experience racism must go so much deeper.

Though it is important to push back against these loud acts of racism, not enough is done about the more subtle, everyday, institutionalized, and underlying sources of discrimination. Eddie S. Glaude, a professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University explains that “87% of black Americans say black people face a lot of discrimination today. Only 49% of white Americans feel the same. The disconnect between our stated commitments and our practice is so great that we can’t even agree what the problem is.” It is clear that white Americans cannot sufficiently be allies of people of color if they never step outside of this narrow focus on explicit and obvious racism.

There are many changes that need to be made in support of communities of color, but it is important to remember that forward progress can start with small steps and can come from anyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality, age, experiences with discrimination, or what community they live in. In rural communities specifically, important changes that must be made and that have previously been mentioned are to establish better health and wellness resources within the community. People of color in rural areas should not have to travel great distances just to take care of themselves or find support. With sufficient resources, those who are faced with discrimination can take care of themselves and become more resilient. This is one of the first and most important steps to take because no change can be made if people are unable to live a safe, happy, and healthy life. Every person has the right to have their basic needs met wherever they live and with whomever they live.