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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

A Systematic Review of Black People Coping With Racism: Approaches, Analysis, and Empowerment

Jacob, G., Faber, S. C., et al. (2022).
Perspectives on Psychological Science.


This article reviews the current research literature concerning Black people in Western societies to better understand how they regulate their emotions when coping with racism, which coping strategies they use, and which strategies are functional for well-being. A systematic review of the literature was conducted, and 26 studies were identified on the basis of a comprehensive search of multiple databases and reference sections of relevant articles. Studies were quantitative and qualitative, and all articles located were from the United States or Canada. Findings demonstrate that Black people tend to cope with racism through social support (friends, family, support groups), religion (prayer, church, spirituality), avoidance (attempting to avoid stressors), and problem-focused coping (confronting the situation directly). Findings suggest gender differences in coping strategies. We also explore the relationship between coping with physical versus emotional pain and contrast functional versus dysfunctional coping approaches, underscoring the importance of encouraging personal empowerment to promote psychological well-being. Findings may help inform mental-health interventions. Limitations include the high number of American-based samples and exclusion of other Black ethnic and national groups, which is an important area for further exploration.

From the Discussion section

Clinical implications

For clinicians seeking ways to support Black clients with racial trauma, the successful coping strategies enumerated here can serve as model starting points and should provide clients with greater agency and better outcomes (Heard-Garris et al., 2021; Hope et al., 2018) than the use of an ambiguous strategy. Therapy should be palpable positive affirmation; clients should feel validated and empowered. If they are religious, finding purpose in their experience even if it was negative can have a positive therapeutic effect. Helping clients find a coping strategy that affirms their intrinsic worth and beauty can also be profoundly therapeutic. If clients do not have affirmative social-support networks, or have dysfunctional social support, helping them find positively affirming support can be highly beneficial. Encouraging clients to create and make art, music, or prose out of their racist experience through positive reframing can be a transformative and proactive coping mechanism (Miller et al., 2020; Stuckey & Nobel, 2010). Certain forms of activism furthermore seem to have specific mental-health benefits (Heard-Garris et al., 2021; Montagno & Garrett-Walker, 2022; Riley et al., 2021). Ensuring that the coping mechanism chosen allows clients to reclaim their identity and dignity is essential. It is important to keep in mind that activism comes in many forms and may or may not involve formal protests or a Black Lives Matter event (E. K. Griffin & Armstead, 2020). Black clients can look for opportunities to promote antiracist change in their personal environments as well (work, school, community) through any number of prosocial means. For a cognitive-behavioral approach to helping clients with racial stress and trauma, see Williams et al. (in press).