Objectives: This study describes the perceptions of racism, passive and active responses to this psychosocial stressor, and it examines socioeconomic correlates of perceived racism in an economically diverse population of Black women.
Methods: The Telephone-Administered Perceived Racism Scale was administered to 476 Black women, aged 36 to 53 years, who were randomly selected from a large health plan.
Results: The percentage of respondents who reported personally experiencing racism in the past five years ranged from 66% to 93%, depending on the specific item asked. When respondents were asked about racism toward Blacks as a group, perceptions of racism were even higher. For example, 68% "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that they had personally experienced being followed or watched while shopping because of their race, and 93% reported that Blacks in general experience this form of discrimination. Strong emotional responses to racism were often reported, and though more respondents (41%) reported experiencing very strong active emotions including anger, a substantial group (16%) reported experiencing very strong passive emotions such as powerlessness. Higher education was associated with higher perceived racism, while growing up in a middle-income or well-off family was associated with lower perceived racism and reduced likelihood of passive responses to racism.
Conclusions: The high prevalence of perceived racism in this study population warrants further examination of this stressor as a potential determinant of racial health disparities. Higher education and income do not appear to protect women from experiencing racism and feeling hopeless or powerless in response.