African Americans

African American Health and Wellness: Part 2

Dimensions of African American Health (Edwards, 1999)

  • Ideological/Beliefs – possessing a sense of spirituality, including the need for a belief in God and being in touch with a greater power or Supreme Being, having a strong cultural identity, and being proud of one’s cultural heritage, being practical and having common sense
  • Moral Worth – showing self-respect, positive self-esteem, demonstrating a sense of honesty, and responsibility and being true to oneself and others; expressing true respect and compassion for others
  • Interpersonal style – communicating and interacting well with others to develop, maintain and strengthen healthy relationships; being assertive and able to demonstrate respect for others while still expressing oneself and one’s true feeling
  • Competence – having capacities such as intelligence, being flexible and resilient, pursuing educational growth and possessing skills to survive
  • Determination – being determined and demonstrating the capacity for willpower and self-control, including being goal oriented
  • Unity – maintaining or possessing a sense of inner peace; having good self-knowledge and understanding; as well as striving to be one’s best
  • Health/Physical – being in good physical health, including having a healthy diet, taking care of one’s appearance and appreciating one’s own sense of beauty

Approaches to Studying the Mental Health of African Americans

  • Service utilization data – has been used as an indicator of psychopathology. Current service use data offers limited info about differences in actual rates of psychopathology between cultural groups
  • Epidemiological studies – better for understanding psychopathology rates than service utilization studies. It is the study of the rates of the incidence and prevalence of health/mental health conditions in population. Can help to explain similarities and differences between ethnic and racial groups in types and rates of psychopathology
  • National Survey of Black Americans – provides mental health info on African Americans. Provides opportunities to examine within-group differences of mental health issues among African Americans

Africultural Coping (Utsey et al., 2000) – an effort to maintain a sense of harmony and balance with the physical, metaphysical, collective/communal, and the spiritual/psychological realms of existence.”

  • Cognitive or emotional debriefing – adaptive reaction to manage perceived environmental stressor. It might involve having a discussion with a supervisor about a coworker who is contributing to racial stress
  • Spiritual-centered coping – based on a sense of connection with spiritual elements in the universe and with the Creator. It could involve connecting to one’s higher power and praying as a way of dealing with racial stress.
  • Collective coping – group-centered activities. This could be getting together with other African Americans and discussing and planning an activity.
  • Ritual-centered coping – use of rituals to manage a stressful situation. It might involve rituals such as playing certain types of music and lighting candles to deal with stress

African American Health and Wellness

African American Health and Wellness

April is National Minority Health Month so I thought it would be a good time to talk about health disparities that African Americans face. A report by the Institute of Medicine found that these health disparities demonstrate a complex problem that includes aspects of bias, discrimination, and stereotyping. They reported, "Mental health care occurs relatively frequently in emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals." African Americans are overrepresented in emergency and inpatient services. What this means is that African Americans disproportionately use these services instead of mental health care clinics and other centers. The National Survey of American life found that 10.1% of African American used some form of mental service within the past year; this includes 31.9% of African Americans who meet DSM-IV criteria (Diagnostic Statistical Manual, which is what psychologists/psychiatrists use to diagnose psychological disorders; this article came out before the new DSM-V). Other studies have highlighted similar disparities. African Americans have a greater mental illness-induced "disease burden" than White Americans, meaning that they experience more disabling forms and experience them for longer times. Of African Americans diagnosed with depression, 57% experience chronic depression. Additionally, African Americans have lower odds of receiving evidence-based treatments. These disparities continue into the studies that assess treatment quality and effectiveness. African Americans are underrepresented in efficacy studies (whether the treatment works in ideal situations).

Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?

I have been thinking a lot about history lately, particularly my own (or lack of one). The farthest I can trace my family is through my maternal great-grandmother (My mom's mom's mom). As far as I know our whole family history is in Gulfport. I don't know anything or place besides that. I realize that this is too common for many African Americans. The Transatlantic Slave Trade ripped people away from their homes, cultures, and history. We never talked about Africa in school and we barely discussed slavery. As far as what I was taught in school, I had no history outside America and slavery. I really envy people who can trace their families back to their countries of origin and I feel upset that I cannot do the same. Slavery took that from us and I do not believe people really grasp what it means for a people to be ripped away from their home, taken to a strange land, and to be told for hundreds of years that you are inferior, you have no history, you have no culture, you're not even human. Do you know how many times I've heard someone say that Black people have no culture? Maybe they're too busy stealing Black culture to notice.

Everything we learn is about Europe or America and how great they are as if Africa did not have its own great universities that predated universities in Europe like Oxford. There are stories about beautiful structures built by Africans that were assumed to be built by Europeans because there's no way that Africans were smart enough to do anything like that. People still trying to act like Egyptians are White. Going through the education system with this is insult on top of insult on top of insult. Malcolm X posed the question: who taught you to hate yourself? My answer is racism, colonialism, slavery, Jim Crow, and the list goes on. I find myself having this painful longing to know where I came from. Maybe if I did one of those kits I would learn more, but I'm wary about giving another company my DNA. I'm writing this knowing that some of you either won't understand it or will just straight up dismiss it, but this is my experience and these are my feelings. I didn't grow up with wealthy parents who could afford to send me to the best schools in the world. Some of us had a more difficult road to get here. If you would have told me as a teen that I would have a Ph.D., I probably wouldn't have believed because I was never shown that as an option for me. That's why history is important.

Looking back, you can see what is possible for you to become. Unfortunately, African Americans have not been given the same opportunity to look at their own history (or even to have it be told from their perspective. Imagine a White person lecturing you about Africa and how insulting that really is). Power and privilege. Who has the power to tell you your history? Who has the power to shape and mold your history to their gain? Too often for African Americans, that answer is not us.

Article Summary #4: African American Mothers' Socialization Beliefs and Goals with Young Children: Themes of History, Education, and Collective Independence

Suizzo, M. A., Robinson, C., & Pahlke, E.  (2008).  African American mothers’ socialization beliefs and goals with young children: Themes of history, education, and collective independence.  Journal of Family Issues, 29, 287 – 316.

The goal of the study was to identify and describe cultural models of child rearing with 3 to 6-year-old children.  This research focused on middle-class suburban mothers.  Many African American parents believe that education is the only way their children will have opportunities in a world that could be racist toward them.  Communicating the importance of education is an important socialization goal.  A semistructured interview was developed for the study.  Questions included: mothers’ relationship with child, mothers’ own upbringing and family background, child’s experiences with racial discrimination and mothers’ racial socialization beliefs and practices, and the mothers’ long-term goals and values for her child. 

Three themes were identified: teaching children about African Americans’ history and their ancestors’ struggle, promoting educational achievement as a means to overcome barriers of racism, and promoting individual autonomy while maintaining close family relationships.  Mothers talked about teaching their children that African Americans have a unique history that non-Blacks do not share, may not understand, and may misinterpret.  Teaching this history was used to also prepare them for future discrimination.  Nine out of the 12 mothers explicitly mentioned wanting to transmit the values of pride to their children and incorporating it into their interactions.  Mothers did not mention the brutality of Jim Crow or slavery because they did not seem to be ready or willing to tell this side of the story, but they chose to highlight the positives.  Mothers of younger children seemed less likely to have taught their children about African American history.  Mothers used several strategies to communicate what it means to be African American (Kwanzaa, Juneteenth). 

Education was the most frequently mentioned long-term goal.  Many felt that it was important for them to be actively involved in their children’s learning and education.  They also expressed the need for their children to learn African American history in school.  There was also mention of racism being a potential barrier to their children receiving a good education and their educational attainment; they described several ways in which they saw racism manifested in education.  Educational achievement was explicitly connected to the practice of racial socialization.

Article Summary #3: Race Socialization Messages Across Historical Time

Brown, T. N. & Lesane-Brown, C. L.  (2006).  Race socialization messages across historical time.  Social Psychology Quarterly, 69, 201 – 213.

The study proposes that what children are told is a function of their parents’ appraisals of the racial climate during which their children are coming of age; are certain messages about being Black more likely to be transmitted from parents to children during particular historical periods?  The study is based on the life course perspective because it describes how individual lives are shaped by social change. 

Racial socialization responses were coded into 5 categories.  Individual pride messages emphasized hard work, individual achievement, and personal character development in spite of racism.  Racial group pride messages emphasized black unity, positive feelings about one’s racial group, and teachings about blackness.  Messages emphasizing self-subordination made up the category of deference to and fear of whites.  Color-blind messages emphasized equality among all racial groups.  “Whites are prejudiced” messages emphasized recognition of racial inequalities and ways to deal with whites. 

Three historical periods were focused on.  Pre-Brown v. Board of Education (roughly before 1957): blatant segregation of the races, racial terrorism, economic exclusion, and “Whites Only” signs.  Protest period (shortly after Brown v. Board of Education): civil rights movement.  Post-protest age: increasing economic opportunities for large segments of the black community, integration of predominantly white spaces and thus more interracial contact, the emergence and isolation of an urban black underclass, and the institutionalization of covert racial discrimination.  Racial attitudes were also examined. 

Racial socialization messages differed by birth cohort.  People born during the pre-Brown v. Board of Education period were less likely to receive individual pride messages and more likely to receive deference to and fear of whites messages and color blind messages.  Individuals born during the post-protest period were more likely to receive individual pride messages, racial group pride messages, or no messages and less likely to receive messages emphasizing deference to and fear of whites and color-blind messages.  Attitudes about voting for Black candidates and explanations for why Blacks do not get a good education or good jobs were linked to messages received.

Article Summary #2: Microaggressions and Psychological Functioning Among High Achieving African Americans: A Mixed-Methods Approach

Torres, L., Driscoll, M. W., & Burrow, A. L.  (2010).  Microaggressions and psychological functioning among high achieving African-Americans: A mixed-methods approach.  Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29, 1074 – 1099.

Torres’ (2010) study sought to identify the types of racial microaggressions described by high achieving African Americans and to investigate the way in which microaggressions influence mental health over time.  Racial microaggressions have been to come in three forms: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations.  Microassaults are explicit, racially derogatory statements or actions with the intention of hurting the victim.  Microinsults are rude or insensitive comments that demean the person’s racial or cultural heritage; it is not always explicit.  Microinvalidations exclude, negate, or minimize the perceptions, thoughts, feelings, or other experiential components of targets’ realities. 

The qualitative phase of the study was based on the responses to the question “What obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome in order to earn your doctorate degree?”  Concepts that were identified in this phase included assumptions of criminality/second-class citizen, underestimation of personal ability, and cultural/racial isolation.  Assumption of criminality/second class citizen refers to events in which the person of color was thought to be doing something illegal or was being treated as an inferior person.  Underestimation of personal ability included stereotypes and negative perceptions about an individual’s ability to succeed in academia.  This also included a need to prove oneself academically.  Cultural/racial isolation referred to being singled out because race or the lack of peers of the same race. 

Results suggested that individuals usually utilized active coping strategies and that they had moderate levels of stress during the month prior.  All three types of microaggression subscales were related to increased stress and depression.  Active coping was related to lower stress, fewer symptoms of depression, and less underestimation of personal ability.  Underestimation of ability predicted depression and perceived stress.  After accounting for the effects of microaggressions on depression through perceived stress, the direct effect of microaggressions on perceived stress was significantly reduced.  Results also suggest that the effect of underestimation on perceived stress depends on the level of coping behaviors.  High coping and low underestimation of personal ability were associated with the lowest perceived stress scores.  Cultural/racial isolation predicted depression.