• Shawn Wilson, Ph.D.

Experiences of Discrimination Amongst Black Americans

Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash

Discrimination is associated with a host of negative outcomes including experiencing a heightened stress response, poorer reported health, and mental health outcomes such as depression and anxiety. A recent survey by NPR found that 92% of Black Americans believe discrimination against Black individuals exists today. This is likely not a surprising finding, particularly given the political climate that has led to an increase in White nationalism. What is interesting however, is that the survey by NPR asked these Black Americans about their perceptions of discrimination, which help us understand the lived experiences of those who experience discrimination.

As described in this NPR article, an interesting study was done with actors who attempted to rent or buy a house or apartment. Consistently, actors of color were shown fewer homes and offered fewer discounts on mortgages and rent compared to White actors.

This was supposedly surprising even to the actors of color, who typically felt that they were treated politely by the real estate agents. And yet, this is the perfect example of how discrimination works. It is often difficult to know if in a specific circumstance an individual was treated differently due to their skin color, national background, accent, physical features, etc. And yet when we example how groups of people have been treated, it is easier to see how biases are systematically targeting individuals of color.

In the NPR survey, approximately half of the Black Americans reported that they had personally experienced discrimination, which occurred in many different areas including pay differences or differences in promotions at work (57%), applying for jobs (56%), interactions with police (50%), buying or renting a house/apartment (45%), applying to or attending college (36%), or going to the doctor (32%).

The article also includes interesting ways that Black Americans differently view discrimination. For example, younger Black Americans see institutional forms of racism as being a bigger problem than discrimination from an individual person, whereas for older Black Americans the reverse is true. Black Americans living in urban cities see institutional racism as more problematic whereas those living in rural settings see individual racism as more problematic.

Another interesting finding is that Black Americans who earn more than $75,000 report more experiences with discrimination compared to those who earn less than $25,000. While it is not clear why this is true, it may be that more affluent Black Americans live in less segregated neighborhoods and work in less segregated communities which increases the chance of discriminatory experiences. I also wonder if a successful Black person is seen as more of a threat to a White person and as such increases the likelihood that the White person will respond in a discriminatory way in an attempt to retain some power. The literature on stereotypes and discrimination has likely already completed studies on this topic.

It is important for us to understand as much as we can about discrimination so that we can learn effective ways to prevent discrimination and help those who have experienced discrimination. Unfortunately, while some forms of discrimination are blatant, other forms are more difficult to identify. This sneakier type of discrimination can be more difficult to talk about and work through as it can be more of a feeling as opposed to a specific incident or two. More work needs to be done to help perpetrators and recipients of this less obvious type of discrimination identify when it is occurring and what the impact of these experiences is.

We all need to be vigilant regarding the potential for discrimination and speak up when we see someone being treated unfairly as we all benefit when everyone is treated with kindness, fairness, and respect.

Article link: http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/10/25/559015355/how-black-americans-see-discrimination

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© 2020 by Shawn Wilson