Exploring the Relationship between Race-Related Stress, Identity, and Well-Being among African Americans

By Tovar-Murray, Darrick; Munley, Patrick H. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Relationship between Race-Related Stress, Identity, and Well-Being among African Americans


Tovar-Murray, Darrick, Munley, Patrick H., The Western Journal of Black Studies


For almost four hundred years, racism has plagued the personal development of African Americans. Since 1619, when a group of Europeans arrived on America's shores carrying a cargo of African slaves, racism has been responsible for the racial and ethnic disparities in many sectors of African Americans' lives (Utsey, Bolden, & Brown, 2001). These disparities are reflected in African Americans' inability to achieve a state of complete social, economic, biological, and psychological well-being. For example, African Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from health-related illnesses, community violence, environmental injustice, and inadequate education (Collins, Tenney, & Hughes, 2002; Smith, 1985; Randall, 1993). Each year in America, thousands of African American babies die due to improper nutrition, shelter, and inadequate access to medical facilities. Year after year, many African American children live in conditions of poverty and are physically, emotionally, and intellectually maimed (Randall, 1993). Furthermore, African Americans continue to be victims of racism through personal acts of discrimination directed towards them (Utsey et al., 2001; Broman, 1997; Simpson & Yinger, 1985; Smith, 1985; Hacker, 1992; Essed, 1990; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1999) that consequentially affects their well-being (Utsey et al., 2001).

In the social science literature, based on both quantitative (Dion & Earn, 1975; Dion, Dion, & Pak, 1992; Pak, Dion, & Dion, 1991) and qualitative (Essed, 1991; Barnes & Ephross, 1994; Feagin, 1991) studies, research has found that racism, in the form of discrimination, is negatively associated with African Americans' well-being and the psychological and physical consequences associated with racism are well supported and documented. Compared with other ethnic groups, African Americans tend to report significantly higher levels of discrimination (Sanders Thompson 2002). In Sigleman and Welch's (1991) study, 50% of African Americans reported that racism is the main source of their underemployment status and their reasons for living in substandard housing. Clark, Anderson, Clark, and Williams, (1999) found that African Americans are more likely than any other ethnic group to be exposed to environmental stressors related to racism. Klonoff, Landrine, and Ullman (1999) found that 83% of African Americans reported discrimination by waiters and store clerks, 55% reported racism by helping professionals, 50% reported that they were called racist names, and almost 50% reported being hit, shoved, harmed or threatened with physical harm. Furthermore, Broman, Mavaddat, and Hsu (2000) found that 60% of African American participants believed that they had been victims of racism in the last three years.

Indeed, racism has been a pervasive and unique source of stress for African Americans that negatively affects their well-being. Results from national surveys (Jackson, Williams, & Torres, 1997; Pernice & Brook, 1996) and community surveys (Amaro, Russo, & Johnson, 1987; Salgado de Snyder, 1987) also support these findings, as research continues to indicate that there is an inverse relationship between African Americans' self-esteem and perceived racial discrimination (Fernando, 1984). Research has also found that racism negatively impacts African Americans' physical well-being and that chronic exposure to racism is associated with a host of acute racism reactions, such as race-related stress (Utsey, Ponterotto, Reynolds, & Cancelli, 2000; Moore, 2000; Fernando, 1988; Griffin, 1991; Landrine & Klonoff, 1996).

Many psychologists and scholars have attempted to understand the psychological and physical effects of racism on African Americans' well-being (D'Andrea & Daniels, 2001; Hacker, 1992; Harrell, 2000; Jones, 1997; Pack-Brown, 1999; Utsey, Chae, Brown, & Kelly, 2002). A number of scholars have illuminated the physiological and psychological domains that are affected by the stress of racism (Clark et al. …

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