Monthly Archives: August 2017

Black Pain, Black Joy, and Racist Fear: Supporting Black Children in a Hostile World

African American father and son

This is the second in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit:

By Angel Dunbar, PhD (Post-Doctoral Associate, University of Maryland)

On Saturday August 12, 2017, I awoke to images from the night before of dozens of White nationalists marching through the University of Virginia Charlottesville carrying torches and chanting “you will not replace us.”

This chant, “you will not replace us,” embodies the perception held by White nationalists that people of color are eminent threats to the continuation of White supremacy. However, this dangerous fear is not limited to self-proclaimed White nationalist. It runs deep within and across various institutions that impact adults and children alike, including the education and justice systems.

Taking in the images from Charlottesville and considering them against the backdrop of other overt and covert displays of racism in recent years, I was reminded of the intense emotionality of racism and its effect on Black children.

I imagine the level of fear it must take for a police officer to shoot a 12-year-old Black child within two seconds of arriving on the scene. I wonder about the level of hatred one must hold to be able to shoot at Black teenagers enjoying music in their car. I recall the anger and pain one feels at not only experiencing racism but also vicariously witnessing and learning about racism. And I consider the constant emotional restraint needed to remain composed so as not to become another victim of racist fear.

Unsurprisingly, parents and caregivers are increasingly concerned for the wellbeing of Black children. Research shows that:

When it seems like Black children are mistreated for expressing anger, fear, joy, or for simply existing, it can be a daunting task to figure out how to best protect them from harm while also allowing them to live and thrive unapologetically. Here are a few things to consider from the research:


Facts of Life


1. Strike a balance

It is reasonable to encourage children to control their emotions (e.g., “don’t get too upset” “don’t react in anger”) and monitor their behavior in certain contexts—such as with teachers and administrators, law enforcement, and unknown adults—in an effort to decrease their chances of being harmed or treated with bias. Research shows that not talking to Black children about racism and what they may witness or experience can actually lead to more distress later, due to the shock of unexpected exposure.

However, excessive suppression of emotions without an outlet can lead to depression, anxiety, acting out, and can even take a toll on cardiovascular health. For balance, caregivers can encourage children to feel comfortable expressing their emotions at home and with close friends and extended family.

Speaking of emotional outlets…

Carefree children running and playing in garden


2. Processing emotions is essential

As adults, experiencing or witnessing racism can be extremely emotionally upsetting. So imagine how overwhelming it must be for children, who are still developing the skill of managing their emotions, to experience or even learn about racism. Research shows that validating and being sensitive to children’s feelings of fear, anger, and sadness helps them learn to effectively cope with these emotions. It also helps to prevent depression, anxiety, and behavior problems.

Validation and sensitivity comes in many forms, including allowing children to express their feelings, comforting them with physical affection and reassuring words, and problem solving with them. Here are some questions you can ask your child the next time he or she is upset by images they see in the media or something that happened to them….

“What happened?”

“Why do you think that happened?”

“How did it make you feel?”

“What can we do to feel better?”

Also check out this blog post by Dr. Riana Anderson about how our own emotional distress to racism can impact these conversations with children.


Close up portrait of a happy little boy smiling

3. Surround children with love and remain joyful

Being discriminated against and learning that others may not like them simply because they are Black can take a toll on children’s sense of self-worth and overall health. Having positive, warm, and supportive relationships both in and outside of the home can buffer against the negative impact of racism.

Such warm and supportive relationships are a constant reminder to children that they have people to turn to and that they are loved, lovable, and have immense value. In addition to everyday love and support, sending children counter messages and positive affirmations about blackness can also boost their confidence and self-esteem.

Despite the violence against Black lives and the accompanying trauma, the Black community continues to persevere and remain joyful. In the words of activist and writer Kleaver Cruz, “Black joy is resistance.” Most importantly, Black joy is healing.



Dr. Angel Dunbar is a postdoctoral associate in the African American Studies Department. Dr. Dunbar completed her M.S. and Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and her B.A. in psychology and sociology at the University of Delaware.

Dr. Dunbar is a Developmental Scientist whose research focuses on understanding the unique developmental challenges that children of color encounter and the family processes and individual factors that influence positive adaptation in the face of these challenges. Specifically, her program of research addresses the following: (1) the detrimental effects of racial/ethnic discrimination on the social-emotional, psychological, and academic outcomes of children of color, (2) the messages parents relay about race/racism and emotions in an attempt to mitigate these effects, and (3) children’s individual protective factors such as emotional, behavioral, and physiological self-regulation and emotion understanding. Dr. Dunbar’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Human Rights and Social Justice Tagged: African American children, African American youth, black children, children's mental health, racial identity, racial socialization, self-esteem, self-expression

Beyond the “Melting Pot”: Why We Need to Support the Multicultural Identities of All America’s Children

It’s that time of year again – back to school! Follow along with our newest blog series on prepping your young ones for the new school year. Most posts will focus on issues affecting children (K-12) and eventually college age youth.

By Kalina Brabeck, PhD (Associate Professor of Counseling, Rhode Island College)

At a recent community meeting I co-facilitated, a Guatemalan immigrant mother shared that, in response to the election of Donald Trump, her eight-year-old daughter posed the following question: “I was born here in the US. But I’m Latina, because you are from Guatemala. Does that mean even though I was born here [in the US], I don’t belong here?”

Embedded in this girl’s question was the assumption of a binary: She could be American, or she could be Latina/Guatemalan, but she could not be both. By eight years of age, this child has the cognitive skills to reason and think more abstractly, and to understand that identity is constant and multifaceted. Indeed, it is during this stage of development that personal identity becomes more complex (kids can understand, for example, “I’m a girl/ daughter/ Christian/ soccer player/ Latina/ American”). But after the US elected a president who ran on a platform which pitted (White) Americans against (Latino, Muslim) immigrants and posited families like hers as a threat to the United States, it is understandable why this child, despite her cognitive capacities, questions her ability to be both Latina and American.

Unfortunately, when we create an environment that leads children to feel ashamed of their ethnic identity, or to think that they cannot be both ethically identified and American, we are robbing them of a crucial protective factor that enhances their development. Numerous research studies have found that strong ties to cultures of origin, multilingualism, and multicultural identities provide cognitive, academic, social, and emotional advantages. Speaking multiple languages is linked to greater cognitive flexibility- like the ability to quickly go from playing outside to doing homework. It has also been linked to the ability to follow directions and stop/think before acting.

Kids who are adept at navigating different cultural contexts are better at taking the perspective of others and developing empathy. Embracing one’s culture of origin connects children to a community of people, a set of values, and a sense of history, all of which help offset the negative effects of racism, discrimination, and poverty. Children with greater ties to their cultural identities are more likely to value and be motivated to succeed in school. Moreover, when immigrant children are allowed- and encouraged- to bring their languages and cultures into US classrooms, White and English-speaking students benefit from learning from them. It’s important preparation for living in an increasingly global and diverse world.

The old idea of the “melting pot,” in which ethnically diverse individuals “assimilate” into a monolithic American culture and identity, while losing roots to the culture of origin, has long been debunked in the social science literature. Rather, we encourage integration– that is, adaptation to the dominant cultural and continued identification with the culture of origin. Multicultural identities, in which individuals are able speak multiple languages, navigate different cultural expectations and norms, and effectively interact with diverse communities, are linked to better health, academic, and social outcomes for all our children. Their ability to succeed in a global and multicultural world also benefits our country. Let’s not disadvantage our children, or our country, by forcing them to make a false choice.




Kalina Brabeck, PhD, is a psychologist who specializes in discrimination, immigration and trauma at Lifespan Physician Group and Rhode Island Hospital. She speaks English and Spanish and works as part of the Latino Mental Health Program team, where she provides psychotherapy to Spanish-speaking patients. Dr. Brabeck is an associate professor of mental health counseling at Rhode Island College. Dr. Brabeck’s research focuses on the effects that poverty, discrimination and legal status have on Latino immigrant families. Her work has been published in many peer-reviewed journals, books and encyclopedias. She is a member of the American Psychological Association. She is also a member of the APA’s Committee on Children, Youth, and Families.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: academic achievement, bicultural, bilingualism, children's mental health, cultural identity, ethnic identity, immigrant children, immigrant families, multicultural, multilingualism

Jury Bias: Can You Argue the Facts When Race Enters the Mix?


By Silvia L. Mazzula, PhD (Asst. Professor of Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY)

I’m sure you’ve heard it – only “relevant” facts should be considered in the courtroom. After all, it’s the foundation of the United States’ justice system to create a just and fair trial. Over the past several months, my Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds have overflowed with posts about race and the justice system following grand jury rulings to not indict in the cases involving police killings of unarmed Black men. Some say “facts are facts.”  Others say there was something more.

Maybe… there was. Research tells us that facts not “relevant” to a given case impact jurors’ decisions – these are called extralegal factors and range from personal characteristics like race or gender to how a juror sees others. Scientific data show, for example, Blacks are treated the worst in criminal and civil cases. Studies also show jurors’ biases about race may have something to do with their decisions –that is, their verdict.  Yet, researchers don’t quite agree. For example, some find better outcomes if the jury is made up of people of the same race as the defendant, while others don’t find these racial biases. An emerging area of study on race salience says decisions may be related to how “obvious” racial issues are in trials, not necessarily about race of jurors.

But this work is somewhat limited too.

  • First, studies typically look at socio-demographic race – that is, what someone answers when they are asked for their race.
  • Second, many focus on White jurors’ racial bias, so they don’t know much about jurors of different racial groups.
  • Third, and more importantly, we know very little about what jurors “think” of themselves as racial beings and how this “thinking” impacts their decisions.

People’s subconscious ideas and prejudices about social-demographic race are referred to as racial identity attitudes. It is this “thinking” that impacts how people make sense of the world – regardless of how they answer that “what is your race?” question. For example, you can ask me what race I am, but my answer won’t tell you whether I am racist or not.

How does it enter the courtroom?

We did a study with 210 mock jurors who were African American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, or non-Hispanic White (henceforth, White). Participants read a case of workplace discrimination and asked whether the plaintiff (African American) had been discriminated by their employer (no race information provided) and if the facts supported that the plaintiff had suffered emotional distress. We included obvious racial overtones in the case (e.g., plaintiff alleged employer used derogatory racial terms such as “coon” or “spook”).

Most participants found the plaintiff was discriminated and suffered emotional distress. However, it depended on “who” and their “thoughts” about race.

We looked at decisions by juror’s socio-demographic race (that is, the “what is your race?” question):

  • Did the facts support a hostile work environment?

African-American, Hispanic and White jurors said yes. Whites represented the highest proportion. Asian Americans did not agree.

  • Did the facts support the plaintiff suffered emotional distress?

African-American and Asian-American jurors said yes. White mock jurors were the highest proportion of those who did not agree.

White jurors only supported a hostile work environment. Research on race salience suggests Whites may want to appear impartial (that is, not bias) when there are obvious racial overtones in a case.  Our findings seem to support this notion somewhat since they didn’t support both decisions.  Based on a common perception that race is much more important for racial/ethnic minorities, we expected people of color to support the plaintiff in both decisions. However, we found racial bias by minority racial/ethnic groups as well. This is important because most research on jury decisions tends to focus on unequal treatment of Blacks only by Whites.


We also looked at what jurors “think” about race (i.e., their racial identity attitudes) and found three attitudes related to their decisions – don’t forget these are often out of people’s awareness. If you look at the graph, we show what research says is the progression of people’s attitudes with respect to race.


ATTITUDE… in a sentence General Theme FINDINGS:        Hostile Work Environment FINDINGS: Emotional Distress
We are all humans
  • Color-blind mentality
  • Race is not important
  • Denial that racism exists
White – Yes

African-American -less likely to support it

White – Yes
I’m all about my group
  • Idealizing own racial group
  • Rejection of other racial groups
White, Non-Hispanic – less likely to support it Asian-American – Yes

Hispanic – Yes

I accept and value me and others
  • Valuing oneself, and others, as racial beings
  • Resolved conflict related to racial differences
African-American -less likely to support it  

“We are all humans”: We found attitudes that negate the importance of race in people’s lives resulted in African-Americans’ finding that experiences of discrimination are irrelevant or unimportant facts of a case. These attitudes are driven by internalized beliefs about the inferiority of people of color. Therefore, its possible they may have thought the plaintiff deserved the consequences — even being called blatant derogatory terms.  For White jurors, on the other hand, these attitudes resulted in supporting both decisions.  It is possible that these attitudes may help them see that a Black person was harmed by a hostile work environment, whether or not it had anything to do specifically with race.

“I’m all about my ‘racial/cultural’ group”: For people of color, these attitudes sometimes include connecting more with other racial/ethnic minorities and can increase awareness of issues of race. Therefore, it’s possible that Hispanic and Asian-American jurors were more sensitive to see potential for emotional harm – even though they did not think it was a hostile work environment. For White jurors, these attitudes reflect the first step toward questioning notions of supremacy. Maybe immersing themselves in their racial group and beginning the process of questioning supremacy prevented them from seeing that experiences of racial discrimination were relevant or that they can cause emotional distress.


“I accept and value me, and others”: These attitudes are the most mature of racial identity beliefs. They reflect a person who has come to integrate race and culture into who they are as people, resolved conflict related to racial differences, and able to value themselves as racial beings. We found African-American jurors were less likely to support there was discrimination. It’s possible that they judged the facts of the case based on its merits without including subconscious prejudices related to race.


Take away:

First, most research neglects to examine racial bias of racial/ethnic minority groups. We, however, found racial bias was present among minority jurors as well. Second, looking at the sociodemographic race of jurors (e.g., the “what is your race?” question) doesn’t really tap into racial biases or attitudes. Had we only looked at sociodemographic race, we would not have seen the wide range of decisions within each racial/ethnic group. In other words – race as a social demographic factor would not identify biased jurors.


It seems that decisions from jurors are based on more than just facts.  This finding calls for urgent attention from all of us – it would mean a fair and just criminal justice system is somewhat of a myth.  So what do we do?


What the justice system can do:

Include psychological measures of racial identity “attitudes” to determine juror bias – and use these with all racial groups not just Whites. Theories on racism show people tend to present themselves as fair. So, simply asking jurors if they think they will be unbiased, as with typical legal strategies used to identify racial bias, such as challenge for cause or voir dire, – doesn’t necessarily identify those who may or may not be.


What you can do personally:

 The truth is that racism is everywhere – we all, in one way or another, grew up learning about the ‘good’ vs. the ‘bad’ racial groups. It is our responsibility as people to change the way we have been taught to think about race so that our justice system really is fair and just, and our children can have a better and more just future! Here are some ideas:


1. STOP:

Not all people who look or identify as White are racist. Not all people who identify as a racial/ethnic minority are anti-racist. We need to stop looking at racism as something based on how people look or answer the “what race are you?” question.


Until we stop seeing race as an issue of Whites against Blacks, or all people of color, and start looking at the meaning of race and how we have all been socialized within systems that value whiteness, we cannot move forward.


We need to support discussions about the “meaning of race”. It takes courage to talk about the privileges we’ve been given just because of “how we look”. Let’s support these conversations.


Talking about race, whether you are “perceived to be” the oppressor or the oppressed is taxing to our emotional wellbeing. I, for example, have been feeling so many different emotions with all the current attention to issues of racism in the media. If I, as someone who studies, works and writes about race needs somewhere to talk about my feelings, you may too. It’s ok. And it’s needed!


We want to hear from you – Tell us in the comments:

  1. How do you work to learn about your biases?
  2. How do you invite others to have these difficult talks?



To read original study:  Carter, R.T. & Mazzula, S.L. (2013). Race and racial identity status attitudes: Mock-juror decision-making in race discrimination cases. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 11(3), 196-217.

Carter, R.T., Mazzula, S. L., Victoria, R., Vazquez, R., Hall, S., et al. (2013). Initial Development of the Race-Based Traumatic Stress Symptom Scale: Assessing the Emotional Impact of Racism. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 5(1), 1-9.

Helms, J.E. (1990). Black and White racial identity attitudes: Theory, research, and practice.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Nadal, K., Mazzula, S.L., Rivera, D.R. & Fujii-Doe, W. (2014). Racial Microaggressions and Latina/o Americans: An Analysis of Nativity, Gender, and Ethnicity. Journal of Latina/o Psychology, 2(2), 67-78. doi: 10.1037/lat0000013

Sommers, S. R., & Ellsworth, P. C. (2009).  “Race salience” in juror decision-making: Misconceptions, clarifications, and unanswered questions.  Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 27, 599-609.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2007).



Dr. Mazzula is also the Executive Director of the Latina Researchers Network and former President of the Latino Psychological Association of New Jersey. Check out Dr. Mazzula’s previous blog post on how microaggressions affect the Latino community.

Image source: iStockPhoto.comVALIGN=TOP

Filed under: Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: bias, jury bias, race salience, racial bias, racial identity

How Do We Blunt the Impact of Ageist Stereotypes?

Senior woman make-up face on white background

By Jeff McCarthy, MA (University of Windsor) & Anne Baird, PhD (University of Windsor)

In Western societies, negative stereotypes about being an older person predominate. However, these patterns vary across groups and across times. Typically, researchers study ways to diminish the negative impact of stereotypes on two groups:

  • younger adults, to whom these negative stereotypes are not applied by others or themselves4
  • older adults, to whom these negative stereotypes likely are applied both by others and themselves.

Reducing the impact of these stereotypes on older people themselves has been the subject of some interesting recent studies.


When we look at the way older people are shown in and participate in traditional and social media, we see both progress and continued shortcomings. On the one hand, a study of Super Bowl commercials from 2010 to 2014 suggested more appearances of older characters than in earlier traditional media1. Moreover, the portrayal of these characters overall was more positive than in the past.


On the other hand, the use of social media by older people and the description of them in these media are far from optimal. Social media are potential avenues for older people to address ageism directly and advocate for themselves, but inaccessibility of design, failure to appreciate the value of social media, and worries about privacy keep some older people from pursuing these avenues9.


A review of over 80 public Facebook groups related to aging uncovered overwhelmingly unfavorable comments about older people in all but one5. In addition to the lack of participation by older people, Levy and colleagues5 give several reasons for this harsh negative bias. These reasons include:

  • the fact that creators of these sites were younger rather than older people
  • the known tendency for stereotypes of all kinds to become more negative as an individual’s contact with social media increases5.

The lack of participation by older people and the prominence of negative aging stereotypes on social media work to accentuate unfavorable views about aging9.


So, how do we deal with this?


Most people would be tempted to shine a light on these negative stereotypes. By bringing them to attention, we can reduce them, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be that easy. Ironically, while some interventions with explicit focus on the stereotypes may help (e.g., imagined intergroup contact10), there is growing evidence that this approach can backfire.


Many education-based interventions that provide information regarding stereotypes essentially suggest suppressing thoughts about negative stereotypes, which usually doesn’t work. For example, try not to think about a pink elephant — what are you thinking about now? Further, teaching groups about stereotype threat may serve to activate these same threats later7. Even explicit focus on positive age-related stereotypes can end up reinforcing antiquated beliefs — both negative and positive3.


Research has shown that as we get older, we increasingly perceive ourselves to feel younger than our chronological age11. These perceptions may shield us from negative stereotypes. In fact, some older people do not identify themselves as a member of their chronological age group; a term called “age-group dissociation.”


Age-group dissociation may:

  • protect older people from applying negative age stereotypes to themselves,
  • reinforce their feelings of being more youthful than their chronological age, and
  • expand their sense of future time left11.


However, there also may be unfavorable effects of age-group dissociation. Older people who do not view themselves as such may not complete important tasks, such as writing advanced directives11. In other words, age-group dissociation probably is not an entirely satisfactory response to negative stereotypes about getting older.


On a more positive note, recent research suggests that self-compassion may be key to developing more balanced beliefs about one’s status as an older person2,8. Using self-compassion to blunt the effect of negative aging stereotypes in older people is a relatively new strategy, although self-compassion and the related constructs of self-acceptance and self-love are not new6. Self-compassion can be defined as unconditional care towards oneself when one is going through difficult times8.


Phillips and Ferguson8 found that higher self-compassion was linked with more positive affect and a greater sense of personal wholeness and meaning in older people. Similarly, greater self-compassion in middle-aged women was associated with more positive attitudes towards aging2. Helping older people nurture self-compassion may be a better way to reduce the influence of negative aging beliefs on older people than a direct attack on those stereotypes.



1Brooks, M., Bichard, S., & Craig, C. (2016). What’s the score?: A content analysis of mature adults in Super Bowl commercials. Howard Journal of Communications27(4), 347-366.

2Brown, L., Bryant, C., Brown, V., Bei, B., & Judd, F. (2015). Self-compassion, attitudes to ageing and indicators of health and well-being among midlife women. Aging & Mental Health20(10), 1035-1043.

3Kay, A., Day, M., Zanna, M., & Nussbaum, A. (2013). The insidious (and ironic) effects of positive stereotypes. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology49(2), 287-291.

4Kotter-Grühn, D. (2015). changing negative views of aging: implications for intervention and translational research. Annual Review Of Gerontology And Geriatrics35(1), 167-186.

5Levy, B., Chung, P., Bedford, T., & Navrazhina, K. (2014). Facebook as a site for negative age stereotypes. The Gerontologist54(2), 172-176.

6Muris, P., & Petrocchi, N. (2016). Protection or vulnerability? A meta-analysis of the relations between the positive and negative components of self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy.

7Nelson, T. (2015). Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (2nd ed.). New York: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

8Phillips, W., & Ferguson, S. (2012). Self-compassion: a resource for positive aging. The Journals Of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences And Social Sciences68(4), 529-539.

9Trentham, B., Sokoloff, S., Tsang, A., & Neysmith, S. (2015). Social media and senior citizen advocacy: an inclusive tool to resist ageism? Politics, Groups, And Identities3(3), 558-571.

10Turner, R., Crisp, R., & Lambert, E. (2007). Imagining intergroup contact can improve intergroup attitudes. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations10(4), 427-441.

11Weiss, D., & Lang, F. (2012). “They” are old but “I” feel younger: Age-group dissociation as a self-protective strategy in old age. Psychology and Aging27(1), 153-163.




Jeff McCarthy is a PhD candidate in the Clinical Neuropsychology program at the University of Windsor in Ontario. His clinical and research interests involve incorporating technology, therapeutic assessment, and a focus on everyday functioning into neuropsychological rehabilitation and management of neuropsychology disorders. He also has an explicit focus on prospective memory and its function in both healthy adults and in those with acquired brain injury and memory impairment.


Dr. Anne Baird is an Associate Professor on the Clinical Neuropsychology track in the Psychology Department at the University of Windsor in Ontario. She has a long-standing research and clinical interest in understanding and supporting everyday function and problem-solving in normal and cognitively-impaired older people.


Image source: iStockPhoto

Filed under: Aging Tagged: ageism, aging, healthy aging, self-acceptance, self-compassion, stereotype threat, stereotypes, stereotyping