It's the Skin You're in

African-American Women Talk about Their Experiences of Racism: An Exploratory Study to Develop Measures of Racism for Birth Outcome Studies

African-American women are two to three times more likely to experience preterm births than their non-Hispanic White counterparts—a difference that has not been explained by well-established risk factors. Low birthweight is a predictor of infant mortality, as well as of numerous other health problems across a person's life span. This study explores whether these adverse outcomes might be caused by racism and by the stress of African-American women's racial experiences.

The authors conducted a series of focus groups with a total of 40 participants of varying ages, income levels and education. Seventeen women had one child, 10 had two, seven had three and six women had four children.

The following major themes emerged characterizing the participants' experiences with racism:

  1. Racism occurs throughout a life, beginning during childhood.
  2. The women experienced interpersonal, institutional and internalized forms of racism.
  3. Racism was experienced both directly and vicariously, for example, through the experiences of the women's children.
  4. Racism occurred in different social settings.
  5. The women prepared themselves physically and emotionally on a daily basis for racial encounters and incidences.

In light of the results, the authors recommend that measures of racism should be developed and formally tested.