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Photo: NNPA
Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Published: 09 July 2024

 Black adults in the United States often develop distinctive coping skills by adulthood to handle the chronic stress of racism, according to a new survey by Duke University researchers. The study, as reported by Duke Today, suggests that these coping mechanisms are not typically found in their white counterparts, highlighting the unique resilience cultivated through lived experiences of racial discrimination.

The study identifies that social support and religion are among the most common coping strategies employed by Black Americans. Social networks and religious communities offer emotional support and a sense of belonging, which buffer against the negative psychological impacts of racism.

Additional strategies include avoidance, substance use, positive reframing, and activism. Some respondents reported using avoidance techniques, such as disengaging from stressors or using substances like alcohol and tobacco, for temporary relief. Cognitive strategies like positive reframing—focusing on positive aspects in difficult situations—and working harder to overcome obstacles help maintain a sense of control and purpose. According to the study, activism and affirming one’s identity through positive self-statements were also significant strategies. “By educating others and advocating for social change, individuals reclaim a sense of agency and counteract feelings of helplessness,” the researchers wrote.

The study also reveals gender differences in coping strategies. Black women are more likely to engage in activism and use social support, whereas Black men often employ passive strategies like ignoring racism. They determined that physical activities are more effective for men, reflecting social and cultural influences on coping behaviors.

The findings have crucial implications for mental health practices, researchers assert. Mental health professionals are encouraged to recognize and validate these coping strategies, tailoring their support to enhance their effectiveness. “By fostering open discussions about these mechanisms, professionals can help Black individuals navigate racial stress more effectively,” the researchers determined.

However, the study emphasizes the need for more comprehensive research. The study found that there remains a call for research exploring coping strategies across different ethnic groups and intersecting identities, such as LGBTQ+ and disabled communities. Further research is needed to understand the overall effectiveness of these strategies in reducing racial stress and improving well-being, the authors noted.

They concluded that the survey highlights the resilience of Black adults in the face of racism, underscoring the necessity of culturally informed mental health support. The findings also “emphasize the importance of recognizing diverse coping mechanisms and call for continued research to better support marginalized communities,” experts said.

An earlier study by the University of Georgia found that the negative effects of racial discrimination and the unfair or prejudicial treatment of individuals based on race on Black Americans are well documented. Researchers said “experiences with racial discrimination are associated with negative mental (e.g., depression, anxiety, hopelessness, violent behavior) and physical (e.g., hypertension, thickening and calcification of the arteries, and heart rate variability) health outcomes.” These detrimental effects on health are found independent of socioeconomic status, age, and gender, the university reported. Moreover, over 60% of Black Americans endorse at least one experience of racial discrimination in their lifetime, and findings suggest that the links between experiences of racial discrimination and negative health outcomes are stronger for Black Americans than for any other group.

University of Georgia researchers added that while individuals of all racial-ethnic minority groups (i.e., Latinx, Indigenous peoples, etc.) are at risk of experiencing racial discrimination and racial trauma, Black Americans are especially at risk, as anti-Black racism is individual, systemic, and historical. Additionally, researchers noted that it is important to consider the compounding impact of belonging to multiple marginalized and oppressed groups, including (but not limited to) race, gender, and sexuality, and how these intersections interact and increase susceptibility to experiences of racial trauma.

Researchers noted that the toll of racial trauma and stress is not limited to psychological outcomes. The negative effects of racial trauma also affect physical health outcomes. The common lack of access to quality medical care for people of color as a result of institutional racism frequently makes these symptoms worse.

Further, the study found that there’s a “clear positive relationship between racial discrimination and poor psychological functioning.” Racial discrimination is also associated with low infant birth weight, lower self-esteem, self-worth, and adaptation. In a sample of African American college students at predominantly white institutions, experiences of racism and racial discrimination were associated with subsequent increases in sleep difficulties. Furthermore, greater levels of internalized racism (i.e., believing racist messages like Black Americans are “lazy” or “criminals”) are associated with a stronger relation to sleep difficulties.

Researchers added that racial discrimination experiences are associated with poorer mental health (i.e., more symptoms of depression and anxiety) as well as lower individual and collective self-esteem. “Being seen and heard is essential to healing,” University of Georgia researchers posited.

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