Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

White Racism and Suboptimal Psychological Functioning among White Americans: Implications for Counseling and Prejudice Prevention

Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

White Racism and Suboptimal Psychological Functioning among White Americans: Implications for Counseling and Prejudice Prevention

Article excerpt

This study examined the causal relationships between anxiety, racism, and self-esteem in a sample of White graduate and undergraduate students (N = 169). The results indicated that level of anxiety had a direct effect on anti-Black attitudes, which, in turn, had a direct effect on self-esteem. Implications for counseling interventions aimed at preventing prejudice among Whites are discussed.

Este estudio examino las relaciones causales entre la ansiedad, el racismo, y el auto-estima en un grupo de estudiantes graduados y estudiantes de bachillerato Blancos (N = 169). Los resultados indicaron que el nivel de ansiedad tuvo un efecto directo en las actitudes anti-Negras, queen torno tuvo un efecto directo en el auto-estima. Las implicaciones para las intervenciones de consejeria dirigidas a prevenir el prejuicio entre los Blancos son discutidas.


Historically, psychologists and other social scientists have regarded the psychological consequences of racism as mainly a Black problem. In fact, the literature delineating the deleterious psychological and somatic effects of racism for Blacks is quite extensive (Allport, 1954; Essed, 1990; Feagin, 1991; Jones, 1997; Krieger & Sidney, 1996; Pettigrew, 1973; Simpson & Yinger, 1985; Utsey, 1998). However, what is conspicuously absent from the literature is empirical research that examines the relationship between White racism and the mental health functioning of White Americans (Bowser & Hunt, 1996). Understanding the impact of White racism on the psychological functioning of White Americans, besides having implications for the mental health of this population, may factor significantly in any efforts aimed at preventing racial prejudice.

Although recent empirical research is scarce, some anecdotal evidence suggests that Whites do experience psychological and emotional distress related to White racism. For example, Whites have reported experiencing anxiety, frustration, guilt, and shame when confronted with issues related to their own racism or to societal racism in general (Bowser & Hunt, 1996; Pettigrew, 1973; Welsing, 1991). According to Carter and Jones (1996), Whites often experience feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, and helplessness interwoven with a sense of intense confusion around issues related to racism. Furthermore, Whites who consider themselves to be egalitarian, while simultaneously holding that some forms of discrimination against Blacks are justified, have been found to experience emotional and psychological discomfort regarding discrimination (Wright, 1981). Simpson and Yinger (1985) posited that White Americans experience a personality distortion from the tension associated with this sense of moral ambivalence.

More recently, researchers examined the role of White racial identity attitudes in understanding the dynamics of White racism (Carter & Jones, 1996; Helms, 1990, 1994; Ponterotto, 1991). Helms (1994) identified the following six ego statuses (formerly stages) to describe the development of racial identity attitudes in Whites: Contact, Disintegration, Reintegration, Pseudo-Independence, Immersion-Emersion, and Autonomy. Of the six White racial identity statuses described by Helms, the first three (i.e., Contact, Disintegration, and Reintegration) represent the struggle of Whites to abandon racism. The remaining three White racial identity statuses (i.e., Pseudo-Independence, Immersion-Emersion, and Autonomy) are characteristic of Whites adopting a nonracist White identity. According to Helms (1990), in order for Whites to develop a nonracist White identity, they must accept their "Whiteness" and acknowledge those ways in which they collude with and benefit from racism.

Much of the early research that examined the psychological correlates of White racism produced dissimilar results. For example, in a study with a sample of psychiatric patients, researchers failed to detect any relationship between racial animosity and severity of psychiatric diagnosis (Ackerman & Jahoda, 1950). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.