1 in 2 black youth faced racial discrimination online at least once in 2020: study

Newswise – Against the backdrop of racial tensions across America in late 2020, online platforms became a place for discussion, discourse, and even protest. During this time, black youth experienced a different effect than their white peers; They suffered more clearly from mental health problems after facing racial discrimination online.

Two University of Pittsburgh researchers conducted a longitudinal study in which they collected 18,454 daily assessments from 602 black and white youth across the country — 58% of whom were African American — over 58 days of racial tension between March and November 2020. Black adolescents experienced increases in racial discrimination online that predicted poorer same-day and next-day mental health, concluded the study, published online July 19 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

These findings had implications for shaping mental health disparities that may disadvantage black youth relative to their white peers, the researchers said. They also stressed the importance of recognizing online spaces as obstacles, if not dangers, to young people at such a developmental stage and to their spiritual growth and well-being.

“This study has shown us that online hate crime reduction programs and practices by health care providers – pediatricians, psychiatrists and others – are needed to mitigate negative mental health impacts such as online racial discrimination,” said Ming-Te Wang, Professor of Psychology and Education at the School of Education and Senior Scientist at Pitt’s Learning Research & Development Center (LRDC).

LRDC research fellow Juan Del Toro and co-author Wang set out to examine online racial discrimination in the time of COVID-19. While students did homework at home, they spent more time online and in front of screens — where the 2020 race riots took hold primarily on direct messaging platforms and social media.

They established two primary research goals: examine the incidence of online racial discrimination before and after the 2020 riots and determine whether such discrimination predicted mental health problems in a representative sample of black youth.

What they found: 1 in 2 Black youth experienced at least one incident of online racism during the study period.

That rate was significantly higher than a previously documented study in which about 2 in 5 Black adults reported experiencing the same amount between March and June 2020 — a study period barely half that of Del Toro and Wang.

“The data was rich because we had black and white youth’s daily survey responses and these daily self-reports were collected over multiple time periods in 2020, allowing us to map the changes in youth’s daily experiences of racial discrimination over time looking at and investigating immediate and ongoing mental health implications of racial discrimination,” said Del Toro.

The researchers concluded that changes in policy and medical approach are necessary when such racial traumatic experiences occur. Researchers noted that clinicians should receive training in culturally sensitive assessment and effective communication skills. Racial literacy training and resources to help youth cope with racist events would also benefit mental health professionals.

“These results have immediate implications for clinical practice,” said Del Toro. “Adolescents’ chronic exposure to online settings may exacerbate racial disparities in health, considering that the present study found negative effects of racial discrimination on the mental health of black youth but not white youth.”

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