Black Adult Resilience: Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with Racism
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Black Adult Resilience: Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with Racism

Black Adult Resilience: Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with Racism

The study, reported by Duke Today, shows that such coping mechanisms are not typically available to white people in this group, underscoring the unique resilience they develop through personal experiences of racial discrimination.

By Stacy M. BrownSenior National Correspondent NNPA Newswire

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

The study found that social support and religion are among the most common coping strategies used by black Americans. Social networks and religious communities offer emotional support and a sense of belonging that buffer against the negative psychological effects 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, to obtain temporary relief. Cognitive strategies, such as positive reframing—focusing on the positive aspects of difficult situations—and working harder to overcome obstacles, help maintain a sense of control and purpose. Activism and affirming one’s identity through positive self-statements were also significant strategies, according to the study. “By educating others and advocating for social change, individuals regain a sense of agency and counteract feelings of helplessness,” the researchers wrote.

The study also found gender differences in coping strategies. Black women were more likely to engage in activism and use social support, while black men were more likely to use passive strategies, such as ignoring racism. They found that physical activity was more effective for men, reflecting social and cultural influences on coping behaviors.

These findings have key implications for mental health practices, the researchers said. Mental health professionals are encouraged to recognize and acknowledge these coping strategies, tailoring their support to increase their effectiveness. “By promoting open discussions about these mechanisms, professionals can help Black people more effectively cope with racial stress,” the researchers found.

However, the study highlights the need for more comprehensive research. The study found that there is still a need for research exploring coping strategies across ethnic groups and intersecting identities, such as the LGBTQ+ and disability communities. More 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 study highlights the resilience of Black adults in the face of racism, emphasizing the need for culturally informed mental health support. The results “also underscore the importance of recognizing diverse coping mechanisms and call for further research to better support marginalized communities,” the experts said.

A previous study from the University of Georgia found that the negative effects of racial discrimination and unfair or biased treatment of individuals based on race are well-documented. The researchers found that “experiences of racial discrimination are associated with negative mental health outcomes (e.g., depression, anxiety, hopelessness, aggressive behavior) and physical health outcomes (e.g., hypertension, thickening and calcification of arteries, and heart rate variability).” These adverse health effects are independent of socioeconomic status, age, and gender, the university reported. What’s more, more than 60% of black Americans report experiencing at least one experience of racial discrimination in their lifetime, and the results suggest that the associations between experiences of racial discrimination and negative health outcomes are stronger for black Americans than for any other group.

The University of Georgia researchers added that while people of all racial-ethnic minorities (i.e., Latinx, Indigenous, etc.) are at risk for experiencing racial discrimination and racial trauma, African Americans are particularly vulnerable because anti-Black racism is individual, systemic, and historical. Additionally, the researchers noted that it is important to consider the complex 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 vulnerability to experiences of racial trauma.

Researchers have noted that the effects of racial trauma and stress are not limited to psychological effects. The negative effects of racial trauma also affect physical health outcomes. The widespread lack of access to quality health care for people of color as a result of institutional racism often worsens these symptoms.

In addition, the study found that there is a “significant positive association between racial discrimination and poor psychological functioning.” Racial discrimination is also associated with low birth weight in infants, lower self-esteem, self-worth, and adjustment. In a sample of African American college students at a predominantly white institution, experiences of racism and racial discrimination were associated with later increases in sleep difficulties. In addition, higher levels of internalized racism (i.e., the belief that racist messages such as African Americans are “lazy” or “criminals”) were associated with a stronger association with sleep difficulties.

The researchers added that experiences of racial discrimination are linked to 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 for healing,” the University of Georgia researchers found.