LOS ANGELES, Calif. — African-American men, even those who “make it” and attain professional or financial success, still encounter constant discrimination, a recent study finds. Researchers from UCLA surveyed both Black and white American males of various income brackets and discovered that, regardless of success, African-Americans still experience far more discrimination than their Caucasian peers.
Study authors say their work shows the “hidden costs” of being Black in America.
“Black men face constant experiences of discrimination and disappointment when they try to contribute. They are treated like criminals in a society where they often are not allowed to achieve their full potential,” says the study’s co-senior author and UCLA professor of psychology Vickie Mays in a university release. “Successful Black men hope their hard work will pay off and instead are tormented to find their education and income often do not protect them from racial discrimination. The ‘return on achievement’ is reduced for Blacks in the U.S. It’s a disturbing wake-up call.”
Discrimination wears on your mental health
The research team analyzed responses originally collected for the National Survey of American Life. That poll had surveyed the mental health of 1,271 Black and 372 non-Hispanic white adults living in the same areas all over the United States. Study authors asked respondents about their usual, everyday experiences across a variety of situations. For example, respondents reported on how often employees follow them around a store while shopping, how often people treated them as if they are being dishonest, or how often they received poorer service at a restaurant.
Study authors say their results were clear. Black Americans of all income brackets faced far more discrimination on a daily basis. According to Prof. Mays, over the years this constant barrage of racism extracts a heavy psychological toll.
“It takes a toll on your physical and mental health. You get depleted,” she comments. “We’ve known this, but now it’s documented. This is evidence.”
Notably, the survey didn’t ask about other discriminatory practices African-Americans often face, such as being pulled over and questioned by police officers or losing out on housing or educational opportunities.
While white men tend report dealing with less discrimination as their incomes go up, Black men in the study reported no difference whatsoever. Study authors speculate this finding in particular may explain why so many high-earning African-American men remain vulnerable to health issues linked to lower-income brackets, unlike their Caucasian counterparts.
“In the United States, many people believe that higher levels of income and education provide relief against being treated differently, badly or unfairly,” adds study co-author Susan Cochran, a professor of epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health. “The results of our study show that is truer for white men, but it’s clearly not the case for many Black men. Structural barriers limit the benefits of Black men’s economic achievements, and perceived discrimination increases the risk of adverse physical and mental health outcomes.”
Making more money doesn’t improve the situation
Unfortunately, the research suggests earning more money actually fosters more perceived discrimination for Black men. Researchers theorize this is because as African-Americans earn more money and climb the social ladder, so to speak, they usually spend more time with Caucasians.
“It was upsetting to write this study,” comments lead study author Shervin Assari, who conducted the analysis as a researcher with the BRITE Center for Science, Research and Policy. “Successful Blacks expect better treatment and think they deserve it but often do not get it.”
In summation, Prof. Mayes believes that discrimination is a part of the very fabric of U.S. institutions.
“Change has to come faster,” Prof. Mays concludes. “Change has to be permanent. We are tired of hearing ‘wait your turn.’ Black men’s dreams have been deferred for far too long.”
The study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.