, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 223-233

Perceived experiences of racism as stressful life events

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Abstract

The impact of racism on African American personality, behavior, and health has been debated in the psychological literature. There has been little research however, on racism as a stressful life event. The goal of this study was to learn whether perceived racism produces symptoms of subjective distress noted in relationship to other stressful life events. In addition, this study sought to find whether racial identification mediated the psychological impact of perceived experiences of racism. Two hundred African American adults were surveyed. Participants completed a 30 item racial identification measure, a questionnaire that requested information on the experience of racism, and the Impact of Events scale. The results showed that one third of the participants reported a perceived experience of racism within six months of the interview. Mean scores for intrusion symptoms were higher as the seriousness of the reported event increased. While participants reported avoidance symptoms, there were no differences based on the seriousness of the racial incident. Racial identification did not mediate the impact of the experience of racism.

Vetta L. Sanders Thompson, Ph.D., is affiliated with the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Department of Psychology.