Much research has been devoted to understanding the negative effects of racism on minority individuals, but less is known about how perceived racism affects white individuals. There is a strong link between racism, discrimination, prejudice, and maladaptive coping, particularly among African-American youth. Alcohol is one method of coping that is used by many people when faced with stress resulting from racism. In college, students experience additional challenges such as academic pressure, independence, and peer adjustment that can exacerbate their psychological stress. When racism is added to the mix, many youth turn to alcohol use as a way of avoiding negative feelings. Emily R. Grekin of the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University in Michigan wanted to find out if white and African-American students dealt with perceived racism in similar ways.
In a recent study, Grekin interviewed 189 white and 94 African-American college freshmen and asked them about their alcohol consumption and alcohol consequences resulting from perceived racial stress. She also evaluated their overall negative affect and behavior. Although stress from racism led to negative alcohol-related consequences for all of the participants, the white students exhibited consequences in direct proportion to the quantity of racist experiences. This finding emerged even when all other factors of negative affect, negative behavior, and overall alcohol consumption were considered.
Grekin believes that there are several explanations for these findings. First, the college was located in a primarily African-American community. This could account for the elevated levels of perceived racism among the white students. If they had rarely experienced racism prior to college, when added to the stress of leaving home and attending a university, this type of stress could make them more vulnerable to negative coping. Also, Grekin theorized that African-American students who graduate from high school and go on to attend college may have already developed productive and adaptive coping strategies, thus allowing them to overcome barriers to academic and social success. These strategies may become second nature and therefore protect them from the negative ramifications of racial stress later on. Grekin believes that further research is needed to illuminate this unique dynamic for college students of all ethnicities. “These findings highlight the need to address racism and racism-related stress in college-based alcohol prevention and intervention efforts,” she said.
Grekin, E. R. (2012). Perceived racism and alcohol consequences among African-American and Caucasian college students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029593
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