The way people choose to cope with personal experiences of racism influences the distress caused by the encounter, a new study has shown.
The study of Filipino-American men and women found that denying or ignoring racial discrimination leads to greater psychological distress, including anxiety and depression, and lowers self-esteem.
"Some coping methods are healthier than others for dealing with everyday racism. We found that when people deny or trivialize racist encounters, they can actually make themselves feel worse, amplifying the distress caused by the incident," said Alvin Alvarez, professor of counseling at San Francisco State University.
Alvarez surveyed 199 Filipino-American adults, both men and women, in the San Francisco Bay Area and found that 99 percent of participants had experienced at least one incident of everyday racism in the last year.
The study found that for men, dealing with racism in an active way, such as reporting incidents to authorities or challenging the perpetrator, was associated with decreased distress and increased self-esteem.
"It is possible that for men, coming up with a plan to respond to racism fosters a 'you can do it' attitude, a sense of empowerment that buffers against distress and feelings of victimhood," Alvarez said.
Coping by confiding in friends and family was found to increase men's psychological distress and lower their self-esteem.
The authors believe this surprising finding suggests that seeking social support may not always be helpful - particularly if talking about racism implies that the situation is unchangeable or if it causes a person distress by having to relive difficult experiences.
For women, although the study found that ignoring racism results in increased distress, no significant correlation was found between active coping methods or confiding in others and psychological distress.
The study has been published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology.