For most racial and ethnic minorities, experiences of racial discrimination are pervasive. Specifically, about sixty percent of African Americans report incidents of both subtle and blatant forms of racial discrimination (Kessler, Mickelson & Williams, 1999). Research on the stress associated with perceived racism in African Americans is important because of differences in health outcomes (Anderson, McNeilly, & Myers, 1991; James, 1993). The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of perceived racial discrimination and the stress from significant negative life events on mental and physical health in a sample of African Americans.
In this study, two hundred adults completed an electronic survey. Sixty-six percent of the sample was female; most worked fulltime, completed a college degree and reported that they were “middle class.” The average age was 41.72 (SD = 14.58). Two key hypotheses were tested; first, participants would endorse experiences of perceived racism and second, perceived racism is positively associated with psychological distress and physical health. Additional hypotheses tested race-related stress and stressful life events as predictors in both depressive symptoms and physical health problems.
The measures included: Center for Epidemiological Studies - Depression Scale, Self Reported Health (Belloc, Breslow, & Hochstim, 1971), Psychological Well-being (Ryff and Keyes, 1989b), the Stressful Life Events Scale (Dohrenwend & Dohrenwend, 1974), the Schedule of Racist Events (Landrine & Klonoff, 1996); the Color-blind Racial Attitudes Scale (Neville, Lilly, Duran, et al., 2000), and subjective religiosity (Mattis, Fontenot, & Hatcher-Kay, 2003). The results of this study suggest that the stress from perceived racism was a predictor of depressive symptoms; however, it was not a predictor of physical health problems as hypothesized in this sample. This raised an important question concerning the role of racial salience on perceptions of racism. Finally, the challenge of data collection across diverse social classes is also discussed as more studies rely on middle class, educated African Americans.