The Effects of Ignoring Racial Discrimination in the Filipino Community

Now I’ve been putting off updating Fil-Am Ako for a while due to my effort to be a good Catholic and preparing for Easter Sunday. However, a study on Filipino men and women published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology was something I could not postpone any longer. The study finds that denying or ignoring racial discrimination leads to greater psychological distress, including anxiety and depression, and lowers self-esteem. The study is still flawed as it seems to only focuses on Filipinos in California. Filipinos in California does not equal the entire Filipino-American Community in the states. I do agree with the goal of the study and it’s findings. From my own experience, I have met a handful of Filipinos who often try to deny their ethnicity and the fact that racism toward the Filipino community in America is still very strong. Also, I hope the research will improve on the study by stating that Filipinos are no longer associated with the Asian race category as seen in the 2010 US Census. In addition, the Filipino experience is very different from the Asian American experience. I feel that the issues of education, job acceptance, and social/economic status are factors in the way Filipinos view themselves in this country. (Shout-out to Eugenia!)

In the face of racism, distress depends on one’s coping method

The way people choose to cope with personal experiences of racism influences the distress caused by the encounter, according to a new study of Filipino-American men and women. Published today in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, the study finds that denying or ignoring racial discrimination leads to greater psychological distress, including anxiety and depression, and lowers self-esteem.

“Some coping methods are healthier than others for dealing with everyday racism,” said Alvin Alvarez, professor of counseling at San Francisco State University. “We found that when people deny or trivialize racist encounters, they can actually make themselves feel worse, amplifying the distress caused by the incident.”

The study focused on ‘everyday racism’ — subtle, commonplace forms of discrimination, such as being ignored, ridiculed or treated differently. “These are incidents that may seem innocent and small, but cumulatively they can have a powerful impact on an individual’s mental health,” Alvarez said. “Trying to ignore these insidious incidents could become taxing and debilitating over time, chipping away at a person’s spirit.”

Alvarez surveyed 199 Filipino-American adults, both men and women, in the San Francisco Bay Area and found that 99 percent of participants had experienced at least one incident of everyday racism in the last year.

The study found that for men, dealing with racism in an active way, such as reporting incidents to authorities or challenging the perpetrator, was associated with decreased distress and increased self esteem. “It is possible that for men, coming up with a plan to respond to racism fosters a ‘you can do it’ attitude, a sense of empowerment that buffers against distress and feelings of victimhood,” Alvarez said.

Coping by confiding in friends and family was found to increase men’s psychological distress and lower their self-esteem. The authors believe this surprising finding suggests that seeking social support may not always be helpful — particularly if talking about racism implies that the situation is unchangeable or if it causes a person distress by having to relive difficult experiences.

For women, although the study found that ignoring racism results in increased distress, no significant correlation was found between active coping methods or confiding in others and psychological distress.

“What’s striking is we found that racism is still happening to Filipinos,” Alvarez said. “Therapists need to look beyond the frequent portrayal of Asian Americans as model minorities and help clients assess what their best coping strategy could be, depending on their resources, what’s feasible and who they could turn to for support.”

The authors caution that what makes a healthy coping mechanism is influenced by such factors as socioeconomic status, age, English language capacity and length of residency in the U.S.

“Filipino Americans and Racism: A Multiple Mediation Model of Coping” is published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology. In addition to Alvarez, the study was co-authored by Linda Juang, associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.

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  • Thanks for the pointer to an interesting study. I was surprised that confiding in others wasn't helpful for Filipino males.

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