Buried hatchets, marked locations: Forgiveness, everyday racial discrimination, and African American men's depressive symptomatology

Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2017;87(6):646-662. doi: 10.1037/ort0000210. Epub 2016 Oct 27.


Everyday racial discrimination (ERD) is linked to pronounced depressive symptomatology among African American men. Yet, many African American men do not experience depressive symptoms following ERD exposure often because they use positive coping strategies that offset its effects. Granting forgiveness is 1 coping strategy associated with less depression. However, extant findings about the mental health benefits of forgiveness are somewhat mixed and pay scarce attention to offenses which are fleeting, historically rooted, and committed outside of close personal relationships. Evidence further suggest age-related differences in forgiveness, ERD exposure, and depressive symptoms. We explore the extent to which 3 strategies of granting forgiveness of ERD-letting go of negative emotion (negative release), embracing positive emotion (positive embrace), or combining both (combined)-are associated with less depressive symptomatology in 674 African American men (ages 18 through 79). Building on past findings, we also test whether these forgiveness strategies moderate the ERD-depressive symptoms relationship for men in different age groups (18 through 25, 26 through 39, and 40). Higher combined and negative release forgiveness were directly related to lower depressive symptoms among 18 through 25 year olds. We also detected a less pronounced positive relationship between ERD and depressive symptoms among men reporting high levels of combined (18 through 25 and 26 through 39 groups) and negative release (26 through 39 and 40+ groups) forgiveness. We observed a more pronounced positive ERD-depressive symptoms relationship among 18 through 25 and 26 through 39 year olds reporting lower forgiveness. When faced with frequent ERD, younger African American men may have the most difficult time burying hatchets without marking their location but experience more positive mental health benefits when they do. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Age Factors
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / ethnology
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Forgiveness*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Racism / psychology*
  • Social Discrimination / ethnology*