Masculinity Ideology and Forgiveness of Racial Discrimination Among African American Men

Most research on forgiveness and its attendant emotional issues has focused on situations involving close interpersonal relationships, such as incest or divorce cases. This paper focuses on forgiveness when negotiation with the perpetrator is not a likely option, dealing specifically with how personality factors, religiosity, and masculine ideology inform the forgiveness of anonymous racial transgressions among African-American men. This research also seeks to address the general dearth of forgiveness studies in men.

The authors suggest that ideology and the willingness to forgive inform men's emotional responses to offenses, as well as their involvement in social groups and practices that are known to influence forgiveness. They hypothesize that because African-American men tend to embrace traditional masculine norms toward self-disclosure, this tendency will inform styles of forgiveness concerning discriminatory experiences.

Study participants included 171 men recruited from barbershops in Michigan and Georgia, or from educational institutions and events. Through survey questions drawn from behavioral/emotional scaling tools, personality characteristics such as social desirability, neuroticism, restrictive emotionality, subjective religiosity, religious coping, racial discrimination experiences, emotional social support, and forgiveness of racial discrimination were assessed. Three indices were measured: overall forgiveness; forgiveness as lack of negative affect, cognitions, and behaviors; and forgiveness as presence of positive affect, cognition, and behaviors. Response analysis revealed that individuals "who hold traditional masculine assumptions about emotional disclosure appeared to find it more difficult to dispense with negative affect…that may be inspired by exposure to racial discrimination." However, restrictive emotionality was not associated with willingness to engage in positive forgiveness.

The authors conclude that positive and negative styles of forgiveness are distinct and masculine ideologies are not uniform in their influence over them. Only two factors, social support and neuroticism, were uniform in their influence over the three indices of forgiveness measured. Lastly, this study complicates previous findings concerning the role of religiosity in molding forgiveness. While religious coping was predictive of overall forgiveness, as well as forgiveness through embracing positive affect, it was not related to the capacity to diminish negative affect. This suggests that "the view of oneself as religious is not sufficient to inspire forgiveness of racially-biased acts." The authors suggest that this finding necessitates further study to examine whether negative emotions are being used to "transform unjust social arrangements" and to understand how demographic factors affect the relationship between restrictive emotionality and forgiveness.