Although the chronic condition of stress can have negative side effects on all persons, the unique psycho-social and contextual factors, specifically the common and pervasive exposure to racism and discrimination, creates an additional daily stressor for African-Americans. Due to a wide array of factor such as, stereotypes, stereotype threat and invisibility syndrome African-Americans tend to face more life stressors than other ehtnic groups.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Servies Office of Minority Health:

  • Adult blacks are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites. 
  • Adult blacks living below poverty are two to three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty. 
  • Adult blacks are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness than are adult whites.

Anderson J. Franklin, PhDIn honor of African-American Heritage Month, the Ethnicity and Health in America Series is raising awareness about the physiological and psychological impact of racism and discrimination as it relates to stress. We are featuring the work of Anderson J. Franklin, PhD, a licensed African-American clinical psychologist. Franklin is the Honorable David S. Nelson Professional Chair at Boston College's Lynch School of Education. Franklin's areas of expertise includes the psychological well-being, resilience and health of African-Americans, as well as the impact of stereotypes and invisibility upon African-American males and females. Franklin is also a scholar of psychotherapy and counseling interventions with adolescent and adult men and families, with a specialty on men of African descent. His published works include: "From Brotherhood to Manhood: How Black men rescue their relationships and dreams from the invisibility syndrome" and "Boys into Men: Raising our African-American teenage sons."

Selected Articles

Racism and Invisibility: Race-related stress, emotional abuse and psychological trauma for people of color

Read the Article (PDF, 575KB)

Anderson J. Franklin, PhD
Nancy Boyd-Franklin, PhD
Shalonda Kelly, PhD

Preface, by Anderson J. Franklin, PhD: This article represents the continuing complexity and challenge to understand the broad impact of racism. The focus is racism as a trauma inducing stressor. It specifically draws upon the insights of master clinicians who evolved their perspectives from an array of therapy contexts and workplace consultations. Whatever the setting, we observed and learned how persons of color cope with the emotional abuse from prejudice and discrimination. Everyone has their own means of managing the overt experiences from prejudice and discrimination, such as how they recognize, perceive, appraise acts of racism, the significance for them and decisions on how to act or react in response. Whereas that response can be unique, across individuals and organizations there are persistent themes that profile the emotional outcomes from the dynamics of racism. The professional work of the practitioner, clinician and therapist therefore provides another perspective on profiling racism and its threats to the mental health and well-being of persons of color.

This article therefore extends the scholarly discourse in the area of racism, race-related stress, trauma and emotional abuse, as well as argues the necessity for interventions. It particularly argues for greater understanding of the interplay of "White privilege," power, individual, institutional and cultural racism in its seeding the "invisibility syndrome" through microaggressions and various related acts of prejudice and discrimination. There are many racial stressors, and stress can emanate and be toxic from many different sources. In our research and scholarship we must not only understand the etiology of racism but its toxicity for the person as well. Perfecting this knowledge is essential to developing appropriate interventions and solutions to the consequences of race related stress. What becomes apparent from greater immersion into the study and understanding of racism and race related stress is its pervasiveness. It is highly contextualized and interrelated, interfacing on many conscious and unconscious levels within individuals, institutions and society. The experiences of race related stress for African-Americans are different as well as similar to other ethnic groups. After all racism is a product of the human experience, a multigenerational and global legacy feeding its existence. This reality is at the source of its complexity and resistance to change as well as resolution. To enter the idiosyncrasies of the person into the human equation only complicate matters. Nevertheless interventions are a necessity to counter the emotional abuse of racism, and our article presents antiracism approaches as an example.