The literature addressing the use of the race variable to study causes of racial inequities in health is characterized by a dense discussion on the pitfalls in interpreting statistical associations as causal relationships. In contrast, fewer studies have addressed the use of racial discrimination scales to estimate discrimination effects on health, and none of them provided a thorough assessment of the scales' psychometric properties. Our aim was to systematically review self-reported racial discrimination scales to describe their development processes and to provide a synthesis of their psychometric properties. A computer-based search in PubMed, LILACS, PsycInfo, Scielo, Scopus and Web of Science was conducted without any type of restriction, using search queries containing free and controlled vocabulary. After initially identifying 3060 references, 24 scales were included in the review. Despite the fact that discrimination stands as topic of international relevance, 23 (96%) scales were developed within the United States. Most studies (67%, N = 16) were published in the last 12 years, documenting initial attempts at scale development, with a dearth of investigations on scale refinements or cross-cultural adaptations. Psychometric properties were acceptable; sixteen of all scales presented reliability scores above 0.7, 19 out of 20 instruments confirmed at least 75% of all previously stated hypotheses regarding the constructs under consideration, and conceptual dimensional structure was supported by means of any type of factor analysis in 17 of 21 scales. However, independent researchers, apart from the original scale developers, have rarely examined such scales. The use of racial terminology and how it may influence self-reported experiences of discrimination has not yet been thoroughly examined. The need to consider other types of unfair treatment as concurrently important health-damaging exposures, and the idea of a universal instrument which would permit cross-cultural adaptations, should be discussed among researchers in this emerging field of inquiry.
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