Black Teens Daily Exposure to Racial Discrimination Is a Public Health Problem

Black teenagers experience daily racial discrimination, most frequently online, which can lead to negative mental health effects, according to a new report led by Devin English of the Rutgers University School of Public Health in Newark.

The researchers surveyed a large group of Black youth between ages 13 and 17 from predominantly Black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., each day for two weeks about their experiences with racial discrimination and measured changes in their depressive symptoms across that period. The teens reported an average of more than five experiences per day.

The experiences reported in the study, which ranged from teasing about physical appearance to overt discrimination, mainly occurred online and led to short-term increases in depressive symptoms. Examples of discrimination included teasing by peers about wearing their hair natural, seeing jokes about their race online and witnessing a family member or friend being treated poorly due to their race or ethnicity.

“Racial teasing is important because it is one of the most common ways adolescents communicate about race,” Dr. English noted. “Critically, young people and adults, such as teachers, often see this teasing as harmless and choose not to address it. Knowing this, people in positions of power such as clinicians, school administrators, and policymakers have a responsibility to consider discrimination as a critical aspect of the daily experience and health of Black teens. Racial discrimination prevention should be a public health imperative.”

The full study, “Daily Multidimensional Racial Discrimination Among Black U.S. American Adolescents,” was published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. It may be accessed here.

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