Psychological Causes and Consequences of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances

Intervention of the American Psychological Association Delegation to the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR)


We respectfully thank the Chair of this United Nations' Plenary Session and the Conference organizers for this invitation to address the full body of this historic conference. As representatives of a United States Non-Government Organization, and several International Psychological Associations, we are especially pleased to have this opportunity to add our voice to the worldwide victims of racism.

We are members of a NGO committed to the eradication of the psychological torture and wasted human potential resulting from the barbaric, inhumane and illegitimate, racist systems of human relationships. We are even more resolved to the development of a workable, vital and living WCAR document; a document that reflects the legitimate concerns and human rights of hundreds of millions of people worldwide for improving the quality of their lives by removing the intolerable weight of racism, poverty, discrimination and psychological torture.

Racism in all its horrific forms is transmitted across generations and is manifested in individual behaviors, institutional norms and practices, and cultural values and patterns. Racism serves simultaneously both to rationalize the hierarchical domination of one racial or ethnic group over other group(s), and maintain psychological, social and material advantages for the dominant group. Both active racism and passive acceptance of race-based privilege disrupt the mental health and psychological functioning of both victims and perpetrators of racial injustice.

We strongly believe that respect for the inherent dignity and well-being of each member of the human family is the psychological foundation of freedom, human justice and peace in the world. This important principle is recognized in the United Nations Charter (1945), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and every subsequent human rights declaration and convention, including the International Convention on the Elimination off all Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). Therefore, we urge the integration of psychological and positive mental health concerns into the framework of the WCAR as a necessary condition for the effective implementation of remedies, and corrective and preventive measures and strategies.

Develop Remedies and Corrective Strategies

The causes of racism and related intolerance and the means for their perpetuation are complex, involving legal vulnerability and discrimination, economic and educational disadvantage, social and political marginalization, and psychological victimization. Thus, we urge governments, academic, and professional, philanthropic, religious, humanitarian, professional, and corporate institutions, nongovernmental organization and other civil society groups, and the United Nations to:

  • Acknowledge, protect and promote the quality of life of victims of racism and other forms of intolerances, especially women and children, migrants and refugees, members of multiethnic states, indigenous peoples, African and African descendent peoples, victims of disabilities, and physical and mental disorders;

  • Establish, endorse and actively support financially, Institutes on Racial and Ethnic Equity and Mental Health Promotion, at the highest levels. These Institutes should place a high priority on research and public policy development and the promotion of research and program development related to tracking the effects of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances; and the status of related racial and ethnic disparities in social, educational, economic, political, health and psychological statuses;

  • Establish programmatic support for mental health on a par with physical health within the World Health Organization and the UN system. Give priority to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances as deterrents to psychological well-being and positive health and mental health, including discrimination in health and mental health care access and treatment, and the lack of effective culturally competent education of medical and mental health care providers;

  • Eliminate biases in research and diagnostic instruments, methods and procedures that reflect and perpetuate racial and ethnic disparities and racism in medical, psychological and psychiatric, educational, employment and other institutional assessments;

  • Recognize and support using the impressive wealth of existing educational curricula and resources against racism at all levels of formal education to promote understanding of human rights, especially historical and intercultural approaches developed by UNESCO.

  • Establish a "focal point" on racial equality based in the UN Office of the Secretary General, to oversee and monitor the integration of issues relating to racial equality into the work of all functional bodies and special mechanisms of the UN, at least equal to those provided for women and children;

  • Establish an "International Research and Public Policy Institute" on the Program of Action adopted at the WCAR to monitor and evaluate capacity building for the fulfillment of WCAR goals.

Thank you for your attention to our analyses and recommendations. The system of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances is broadly entrenched and involves generationally transmitted material deprivation and disparities, institutional arrangements and norms, beliefs and ideologies of cultural superiority, and negative psychological consequences for the oppressed and oppressors. Each of these dimensions of the racism system must be addressed, if we are to reverse their influences in order to create a more humane, just and peaceful world.