Category: Cultural Diversity / Vulnerable Populations
Although research has consistently found that racial discrimination is associated with poor mental health, the work in this area has not fully explored how racial discrimination may differ by gender. The few studies that have examined this question with Black women have found that gendered racism – i.e., discrimination towards women that includes racism and sexism – is negatively associated with mental health. However, to our knowledge, only one study has explored potential mechanisms that may explain the relationship between gendered racism and psychological distress. One important mechanism that may clarify this relationship that has not been studied is “shifting,” which refers to how some Black women modify their self-presentation (e.g. accents, attitudes, and appearance) due to perceived environmental demands and desire for acceptance (Jones & Shorter-Gooden, 2003). Shifting is understood as a culturally specific form of coping. Thus, it is plausible that Black women shift in response to gendered racism. However, by shifting, Black women may also internalize pain, which may be related to distress.
In this study, we explored whether shifting mediates the relationship between gendered racism and anxious and depressive symptoms among Black women in the United States. We recruited participants through verbal and written communication to several Black women’s community and university organizations and social media. The questionnaires of interest for this study were the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale Revised, The Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-Item Scale, The Schedule of Racist Events Revised (gendered racism), and the African American Women’s Shifting Scale.
One hundred and eighty-eight Black women participated in this study. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 70, with a mean age of 35.42 (SD =11.30). Ninety-five percent of participants were born in the United States and approximately 55% had a bachelor’s degree or higher and reported earning US$50,000 or more a year. Bivariate correlations indicated positive associations between all variables of interest. Using PROCESS in SPSS 24.0 we examined if shifting mediated the relationship between lifetime and past year gendered racism and anxiety and depression. Findings indicated that shifting mediated the relationship between lifetime gendered racism and anxiety (ab = 0.0239, 95% CI: 0.0087-0.0434) and depression (ab = .05, 95% CI: 0.0040-0.1219). Shifting also mediated the relationship between past year gendered racism and anxiety (ab=0.0224, 95% CI: 0.0059-0.0444) and depression (ab=0.0637, 95% CI: 0.0085-0.1390).
Shifting may be one mechanism that explains the relationship between gendered racism and anxious and depressive symptomology among black women. These preliminary findings suggest that while black women utilize shifting behaviors to insulate themselves from discrimination and negative stereotypes, shifting may be harmful. Thus, in treating anxiety and depression among black women, clinicians should explore experiences of gendered racism as well as the extent which shifting may be present. The clinical implications of these findings and future research directions will be discussed.