A discussion on racial stereotyping and mental health

As a South Asian woman who believes in non- binary labels and identifies as queer, Sukhmani Gill grew up with a lot of racism. Her lived experiences fuel an interest in understanding why people are judged by their appearances.

I’ve grown up with a lot of racism and discrimination for being a brown female,” says Gill. “I’m also a queer female, so I’ve received discrimination for that too.”

Gill also contends with barriers that have been enforced by her own community who stigmatize individuals and their families struggling with mental illness.

“My oldest sister is schizophrenic and bipolar,” says Gill. “[Our family] has to work twice as hard to be okay and navigate such unchartered territories.”

Gill’s experiences shape an upcoming public discussion on Nov. 15, at SFU’s Philosophers’ Café at Surrey City Centre Library titled How do racial and cultural stereotypes affect our mental health or our child raising practices?

Looking at negative impacts of racial stereotyping

Sukhamani Gill.

This is the fourth community discussion Gill has organized. In the upcoming Café, she facilitates a talk to delve deeper into the negative impacts of racial stereotyping and the affects this has on children. She admits it’s a broad topic, but she hopes it will bring more awareness of the complexity of racial tensions that exist in society, and how they affect people’s wellness and participation in that community.

“I’m curious to know how we teach our children [about racial stereotyping], and how we internalize these types of concepts,” says Gill. “I’m also interested in understanding how these prejudices that circulate amongst different groups are reflected in the way that we interact with each other.”

Gill hopes her input will generate a deeper conversation on some of her experiences with discrimination. She adds that this type of conversation is difficult to have using social media because the medium encourages people to exist in their own world rather than coming together to hear and feel the emotions behind a voice that can only be experienced by engaging with someone in person.

“I think it’s important for us to take the time to talk to each other,” says Gill. “[We] need to talk to strangers to get their side of the story with the goal of finding similarities.”

Encouraging face to face discussions

Gill came up with the topic six months ago during some very ugly and public racial tensions that occurred in the United States. Starbucks was shamed for turning away an African American man who had asked to use the public washroom. Then there was a woman in Georgia who was escorted off a university campus for loitering, when in fact she was just having a nap before her next class. Gill explains that these types of stories go on and on, illustrating how people make judgements about race every day.

“These are stories where people are interpreting the existence of coloured bodies incorrectly,” says Gill. “I’m thinking about that and trying to unravel it in my own head to understand what that means.”

Gill, an English Major in racial literature in North America, with a minor in Counselling, believes that bringing her lived experiences forward to a public space will only encourage further discussions on important issues of racial profiling and discrimination.

“My existence is the only thing I truly understand,” she says. “There’s a lot I don’t understand. This subject comes from me trying to better understand my position in the world… And, how to understand other bodies that have been put through similar experiences.”

For more information, please visit www.sfu.ca/continuing-studies/events/2018/11/stereotypes-influence-child-rearing