Examining Racial Identity and Masculinity as Correlates of Self-Esteem and Psychological Distress in Black Men

By Mahalik, James R.; Pierre, Martin R. et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Examining Racial Identity and Masculinity as Correlates of Self-Esteem and Psychological Distress in Black Men


Mahalik, James R., Pierre, Martin R., Wan, Samuel S. C., Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


Data presented for 124 young adult Black men indicate that self-esteem was positively related to participants' Internalization racial identity attitudes, and negatively related to conformity to traditional masculine norms in the dominant culture in the United States. Psychological distress was positively related to Pre-Encounter and Immersion-Emersion racial identity attitudes (J. E. Helms, 1995) and to conformity to masculine norms.

Los datos se presentan para 124 jovenes adultos Negros, que indican que el autoestima fue relacionado positivamente a la Interiorizacion actitudes de la identidad racial, y negativamente relacionado a la conformidad a normas masculinas tradicionales en la cultura dominante en los Estados Unidos. La angustia psicologica fue relacionada positivamente al Pre-Encounter y el Immersion-Emersion actitudes de la identidad racial (J. E. Helms, 1995), y a la conformidad alas normas masculinas.

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Black men and women's experiences of racism in the United States are believed to contribute to problems of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse (Burke, 1984; Outlaw, 1993); low levels of self-esteem (Simpson & Yinger, 1985); life satisfaction (Broman, 1997); and academic success (Gougis, 1986). Addressing Black men specifically, White and Cones (1999) posited that "the continuing presence of racism creates powerful emotions and uncertainty in the lives of African American men. Over the long haul, prejudice and discrimination can generate rage, anger, frustration, bitterness, resentment, grief, despair, or any combination of these emotions" (p. 141).

Black men's racial identity in response to racism, or how much they prefer or identify with a Black or White reference group, is believed to contribute to their serf-esteem and psychological distress (Cross, 1971). For example, it is suggested that Blacks who have a strong, positive Black identity are likely to have better mental health than those who identify with the dominant White culture in the United States (Helms, 1990). More specifically, for Blacks in this country, positive racial identity is described as rejecting the negative racial portrayals of Blacks found in U.S. society "to achieve a self-affirming and realistic racial-group or collective identity" (Helms & Cook, 1999, p. 84).

On the basis of Cross's (1971, 1978) nigrescence theory, Helms (1995) developed a four-status model of Black racial identity. The Pre-Encounter status is the least affirming racial identity status for Blacks in the United States and is characterized by racial identity attitudes that denigrate Black culture and idealize White cultural values. Encounter, the second racial identity status, begins when an individual has a personal and challenging experience with White or Black society that leads the person to question his or her "Blackness." The Immersion-Emersion status follows the Encounter experience and involves learning the meaning and value of one's race and unique culture. However, the individual may not internalize an authentic sense of Blackness but may become reactionary toward the dominant White culture. This may lead to anger and distrust of Whites that may contribute to psychological distress (Parham & Helms, 1985a). In the fourth status, Internalization, the individual's Black identity is experienced as a self-affirming and valued aspect of the individual. The calming down period that characterizes the Internalization status enables the individual to assume a more realistic and healthy experience of her or his sense of Blackness that is self-affirming (Helms, 1995).

Results from the racial identity literature have shown that these statuses are related to self-esteem and psychological distress as predicted by Cross (1971, 1978). Pre-Encounter attitudes are reported to relate to lower levels of self-esteem (Munford, 1994; Parham & Helms, 1985b; Pyant & Yanico, 1991), higher levels of anxiety (Parham & Helms, 1985b), and lower levels of psychological health (Pillay, 2005). …

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