Written by Serie McDougal
You may have considered the idea that racism can lead to depression, but, did you ever consider that racism can lead to perfectionism? Sharon Lambert, W. LaVonne Robinson, and Nicholas S. Ialongo recently conducted a longitudinal investigation into the relationship between racial discrimination, socially prescribed perfectionism, and depression among African American adolescents. Maladaptive perfectionism refers to holding excessively high standards, being extraordinarily self-critical. This kind of perfectionism has been linked to depression. However, there are different types of perfectionism, one of which is socially prescribed perfectionism. Socially prescribed perfectionism is different from self-prescribed perfectionism because it comes from other people’s unrealistic expectations that are imposed on a person. Some social scientists believe that this kind of perfectionism is worse because it is understood to be less controllable because it is imposed by others. Lambert, Robinson, and Ialongo sampled 492 African American adolescents in grades 7, 8, and 9. At each grade the youth explained: 1) how often they experienced racial discrimination, 2) the extent to which they had socially prescribed perfectionist beliefs, and 3) the extent to which they had experienced anxiety and depressive symptoms. Lambert, Robinson, and Ialongo’s research suggests that the experience of racism in the 7th grade led to socially prescribed perfectionist beliefs in the 8th grade, which in turn led to depressive symptoms in the 9th grade.
But there is much that the parents of Black youth often do and can do to prevent racism from leading to depression. Although there are many ways to prevent the harmful effects of racism. Wade Boykin and Forrest Toms suggest that African Americans prevent the harmful effects of racism on their children by exposing them to Black history and culture, teaching them how to interact appropriately with other racial groups, and instructing them about how to respond to oppression. Without this kind of racial\ethnic socialization Black children remain excessively vulnerable to the harmful effects of racism. Mia Smith Bynum, E. Thomaseo Burton, and Candace Best conducted a study on whether or not racial socialization messages reduced the effects of racism on psychological well-being. They discovered that racial socialization messages reduced the stress that can accompany experiences of racism. To raise psychologically and emotionally healthy children African American parents cannot afford taking the color blind approach. Social science suggests that African American parents protect the psychological well-being of their children through early racial\cultural socialization. Failure to do so will leave Black children more vulnerable to the psychological effects of living in an oppressive environment.
Links to Publications:
Bynum, Burton, and Best publication
Lambert, Robinson, Ialongo publication