Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Perceived Racism as Moderator between Self-Esteem/shyness and Psychological Distress among African Americans

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Perceived Racism as Moderator between Self-Esteem/shyness and Psychological Distress among African Americans

Article excerpt

Given the importance placed on individualism in Western culture, self-concept has been critical in understanding people's psychological issues from the Western perspective. Moreover, it is hardly surprising that self-concept has been described as one of the most pivotal personality attributes related to psychological distress (Marsh, Trautwein, Ludtke, Roller, & Baumert, 2006). Self-concept has two indexes, self-esteem and shyness, which indicate how much people believe in themselves in terms of their sense of personal value and comfortableness with others (Cheek & Buss, 1981). Specifically, individuals with higher self-esteem tend to have better mental health and are more resilient in the face of adversity compared with those with low self-esteem (Marcussen, 2006). Shyness, the other component of self-concept, is defined as "one's reaction to being with strangers or casual acquaintances: tension ... feelings of awkwardness and discomfort" (Cheek & Buss, 1981, p. 330). Shyness is associated with high negative emotionality, negative affectivity, personal distress, low positive affect, and low constructive coping (Eisenberg, Fabes, & Murphy, 1995).

Many scholars (e.g., Cowden, 2005; Harris, 2010; Marcussen, 2006) have found that self-concept can positively or negatively relate to psychological distress, which refers to the current or past level of overall experiences of symptoms, intensity of symptoms, and number of reported symptoms (Derogatis, 1993). With regard to the association between self-concept and psychological distress, there are two types of studies: one investigates the relationship between self-esteem and psychological distress (e.g., Abe, 2004; Cassidy, O'Connor, Howe, & Warden, 2004), and the other explores the relationship between shyness and mental health (e.g., Cowden, 2005).

According to Ratts (2011), one important component in the social justice mission in counseling is to alter or recognize oppressive environmental conditions such as racism. Unfortunately, the context of the prior studies shows that a gap still exists between the prior studies and the call from the social justice mission. The prior research used a univariate perspective, which could only answer the direct association between self-concept (e.g., self-esteem, shyness) and psychological distress, but may not fit with the emerging commitment of the social justice mission in counseling-related professions (e.g., Goodman et al., 2004; Lum, 2003; Ratts, 2011; Ratts, Toporek, & Lewis, 2010). Among the burgeoning topics most directly relevant to social justice are correlates and consequences of injustices, including racism and prejudice. The harmful nature of racism has been a crucial experience for African Americans. Perceived racism could be a proxy for actual experiences of racism, and it refers to one's appraisals of the stressfulness of the racist events (Landrine & Klonoff, 1996). Indeed, evidence has accumulated during the past decade to suggest that reports of perceived racism are related to mental health and symptoms of psychological distress (e.g., Fischer & Shaw, 1999). There is evidence to suggest that, in addition to being harmful, perceived racism varies among African Americans (Clark, Anderson, Clark, & Williams, 1999; Landrine & Klonoff, 1996). Levels of perceived racism relate to how African Americans manage the association between stress and mental health (Kaiser, Major, & McCoy, 2004).

Mahalik, Pierre, and Wan (2006) suggested that self-concept, including self-esteem and shyness, was commingled with perceived racism to such a degree that it was difficult to determine the association between self-concept and psychological distress without considering perceived racism. For example, among African Americans, perceived racism was associated with lower self-esteem and higher psychological distress, which subsequently may make it difficult to initiate a conversation with strangers (Clark et al. …

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