Intersectionality has become an increasingly discussed concept when considering discrimination. It involves how people’s differing identities interact to create systems of oppression for the individual. A study published in the Journal of American College Health utilizes this framework to explore the depression and distress of Black college-aged women.
Racism and sexism are both forms of discrimination that can take a significant psychological toll on the person suffering from it. Black women in particular are a group who often suffer from the combination of both forms of oppression, which can be referred to as gendered racism.
“Racial microaggressions and intersectionality provide the theoretical frameworks for the construct of gendered racism,” wrote Wanda Martin Burton and colleagues in their study. “Racial microaggression is a subtle form of oppression characterized as everyday insults, invalidations, slights, and offensive behaviors that people of color experience daily, typically from well-meaning White Americans. Individual microaggressions may be unintentional and considered trivial and inconsequential by the perpetrator. Yet, the cumulative impact of racial microaggressions cause psychological distress for Black college students.”
In previous research, gendered racism has been associated with depression, sleep disturbance, hair loss, and anxiety attacks. This study sought to better understand the emotional distress associated with microaggressions for Black women, a group that experiences a high level of gendered racism.
For their new study, the researchers utilized 164 Black, female participants who were undergraduate or graduate students at a primarily White public university in the Southeast United States to serve as their sample. Data was self-reported online during the fall of 2016. Participants completed measures on demographic information, gendered racial microaggressions (e.g. “Someone accused me of being angry when I was speaking in a calm manner”), depression, and psychological distress.
Results showed that 30% of Black college women reported experiencing major depression and 54% reported experiencing psychological distress. These rates are above the overall average for college women, with the level of distress being over double what the average college woman reports. This is consistent with the previous research that suggests that gendered racism causing worse mental health outcomes.
There was also a relationship between frequency of gendered racism microaggressions and depression, with those experiencing more instances of microaggressions experiencing increased depression. This relationship was stronger than the relationship between microaggressions and distress.
This study took important steps toward understanding negative outcomes associated with gendered racism. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that due to the cross-sectional nature of this study, causation cannot be inferred. Additionally, data was only collected from one, primarily White institution and may not be generalizable to other schools.
“Despite the limitations and the necessity for additional research, this study has important considerations for public health practice particularly in college settings,” the researchers concluded. “The current findings suggest significant relationships between gendered racism and mental health among Black college women attending [primarily White institutions]. Tailoring college health interventions to meet the specific needs of Black college women may be a way to reduce rates of psychological distress and depression.”
The study, “Gendered racial microaggressions and black college women: A cross-sectional study of depression and psychological distress“, was authored by Wanda Martin Burton, Angelia M. Paschal, Jessica Jaiswal, James D. Leeper, and David A. Birch.