Affirming one’s racial identity may help protect against the harmful effects of racial exclusion on substance use cognitions. This study examined whether racial versus self-affirmation (vs. no affirmation) buffers against the effects of racial exclusion on substance use willingness and substance use word associations in Black young adults. It also examined anger as a potential mediator of these effects. After being included, or racially excluded by White peers, participants were assigned to a writing task: self-affirmation, racial-affirmation, or describing their sleep routine (neutral). Racial exclusion predicted greater perceived discrimination and anger. Excluded participants who engaged in racial-affirmation reported reduced perceived discrimination, anger, and fewer substance use cognitions compared to the neutral writing group. This relation between racial-affirmation and lower substance use willingness was mediated by reduced perceived discrimination and anger. Findings suggest racial-affirmation is protective against racial exclusion and, more generally, that ethnic based approaches to minority substance use prevention may have particular potential.
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Participants in the racial-affirmation group tended to write about positive feelings, historical events, and experiences with being Black and part of the Black community. 42% wrote about a respected Black figure (e.g., President Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., in addition to positive feelings about their race). Another common topic was overcoming adversity both in the past and in present time. The most common topics in the self-affirmation condition were positive personal characteristics (e.g., self-identity and values), personal accomplishments (e.g., graduating high school or college, doing well at a job), and helping.
Participants were also asked about hard drug use (e.g., heroin, crack/cocaine, injection drug use). Only 4% reported using any drugs other than marijuana in the past 6 months.
We also included a measure of sadness. Excluded participants reported greater levels of sadness than did included participants (M = 2.15, SE = .08 vs. M = 1.44, SE = .08; F(1, 240) = 40.34, p < .001). In addition, self-affirmed participants reported significantly lower levels of sadness compared to those in the neutral condition (Ms 1.63 vs. 2.01; p < .05). Sadness levels did not differ between self-affirmed and racially-affirmed groups (ps > .10).
We also had a measure of willingness to engage in risky “prosocial” behaviors (letting a friend cheat off you in class, speeding in your car to get a friend to the airport on time, and helping someone in danger). Excluded participants reported greater prosocial risky willingness. There were no significant effects between writing conditions (ps > .05).
When we examined potential gender differences in condition effects on our DVs, the only significant findings were with substance use willingness. Although the pattern of findings was the same for both genders, among the excluded participants, racial-affirmation (compared to the neutral and self-affirmation groups) was associated with significantly lower willingness among the males (ps < .05) and marginally lower willingness among the females (ps < .1).
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This research was supported by NIDA/NIH (R21DA034290-02).
Conflict of interest
Michelle L. Stock, Frederick X. Gibbons, Janine B. Beekman, Kipling D. Williams, Laura S. Richman, and Meg Gerrard declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
Human and animal rights and Informed consent
All procedures followed were in accordance with ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000. Informed consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the study.
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Stock, M.L., Gibbons, F.X., Beekman, J.B. et al. Racial (vs. self) affirmation as a protective mechanism against the effects of racial exclusion on negative affect and substance use vulnerability among black young adults. J Behav Med 41, 195–207 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-017-9882-7
- Racial discrimination
- Substance use