Racism-Related Stress, General Life Stress, and Psychological Functioning among Black American Women

By Pieterse, Alex L.; Carter, Robert T. et al. | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Racism-Related Stress, General Life Stress, and Psychological Functioning among Black American Women


Pieterse, Alex L., Carter, Robert T., Ray, Kilynda V., Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


The relationship between general life stress, perceived racism, and psychoIogical functioning was explored in a sample of 118 Black American women. Findings indicate that racism-related stress was not a significant predictor of psychological functioning when controlling for general life stress. Perceived racism was positively associated with general life stress. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

Keywords: racism, stress, mental health, women

La relacion entre el estres general de la vida, el racismo percibido y el funcionamiento psicologico se exploraron en una muestra de 118 mujeres afroamericanas. Los resultados indican que el estres relacionado con el racismo no fue un pronosticador significativo del funcionamiento psicologico cuando se controlo estadisticamente para tomar en cuenta el estres general de la vida. EI racismo percibido estuvo asociado positivamente con el estres general de la vida. Se discuten las implicaciones para la practica e investigaciones futuras.

Palabras Clave: racismo, estres, salud mental, mujeres

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The relationship between experiences of racism and health-related outcomes are currently receiving much attention in the empirical literature. Reviews of the research suggest that experiences of racism and discrimination are negatively associated with physical and psychological health (Carter, 2007; Williams & Mohammed, 2009). Although this body of research continues to grow, the findings are consistent with the broader stressful life events literature indicating that stressful life events are generally associated with negative psychological symptoms, specifically depression and anxiety (Kessler, 1997).

Over the past 2 decades, conceptual models have provided a framework for understanding both the nature of racism-related stress and the manner in which racism might have an impact on its targets (Harrell, 2000). In these models, race-related stress is viewed as a discrete or distinct type of stress, different from the more generalized stress associated with daily living (Harrell, 2000). However, recent research has also pointed to the importance of considering the role of general life stress when examining the psychological correlates of racism and discrimination (Pieterse & Carter, 2007; Woods-Giscombe & Lobel, 2008).

psychological correlates of racism

Experiences of racism have been associated with a range of negative psychological outcomes, including decreased self-esteem (Jones, Cross, & DeFour, 2007), lower levels of personal mastery, and higher levels of psychological distress (Broman, Mavaddat, & Hsu, 2000). For Black women, the frequency of perceived racist events has also been noted to be predictive of negative health outcomes, with an observed negative relationship between lifetime racism experiences and health status (Kwate, Valdimarsdottir, Guevarra, & Bovbjerg, 2003) and a positive relationship between perceived discrimination and self-reported depression (Hunn & Craig, 2009). Yet, it is important to note that research findings on the association between experiences of racism and psychological distress are not conclusive (Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000). A range of variables have been identified that might account for variations associated with perceptions of racism and psychological outcomes among Black Americans, including gender, sexism, and general life stress (Carter, 2007; Jackson, Hogue, & Phillips, 2005; Moradi & Subich, 2003; Pieterse & Carter, 2007; Szymanski & Stewart, 2010),

racism-related stress, general life stress, and black american women

For Black American women, the intersection of gender and race has been highlighted as an important consideration when examining stressful life experiences (Jackson et al., 2005; Moradi & Subich, 2003). Specifically, scholars believe that Black women might be more vulnerable to racism-related stress (Greer, Laseter, & Asiamah, 2009). …

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