Black teens experience racial discrimination five times a day on average, study finds

If you think racism in America is dead, or perhaps not as prevalent as some people claim, you may want to rethink that stance.

A new study from Rutgers University has found that black teenagers in the United States experience racial discrimination more than five times a day on average. Five times. Every day.


The study authors asked 101 black adolescents between 13 and 17 years old, who live in predominantly black neighborhoods in and attend predominantly black schools in the Washington D.C. area, to log their race-based experiences each day for two weeks. The teens reported a total of 5,600 incidents of racial discrimination in that time period, or 5.2 incidents per day, per person.

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Discrimination was defined in various ways, from overt racism to microaggressions to teasing to harassment, and included both online and offline experiences. Vicarious discrimination was also included in the study, meaning teens reported witnessing racial discrimination of other people who share their racial background.

"This research reflects what researchers and activists have asserted for years: Black adolescents are forced to face antiblack microaggressions on a daily basis. Importantly, this study expands the research on the many ways that discrimination happens, whether it is being teased by peers, asked to speak for their racial group in class or seeing a racist post on social media," said lead author Devin English, assistant professor at Rutgers School of Public Health.

The authors point out that two forms of discrimination, teasing and vicarious discrimination, are particularly important to study in young people.

"Racial teasing is important because it is one of the most common ways adolescents communicate about race," English said. "Critically, young people and adults, such as teachers, often see this teasing as harmless and choose not to address it. Our results, however, show several types of racial teasing are harmful for black adolescents."

The study also found that racial discrimination occurs more often online than off, and that the daily exposure to racial discrimination may be contributing to depressive symptoms in black youth. With the exception of online vicarious discrimination, every form of discrimination reported was associated with higher depressive symptoms.

The overall negative health effects of racial discrimination have been studied, and we know that the findings aren't good. As Harvard professor David Williams told NPR:

"The research indicates it is not just the big experiences of discrimination, like being passed over for a job or not getting a promotion that someone felt they might have been entitled to. But the day-to-day little indignities affect health: being treated with less courtesy than others, being treated with less respect than others, receiving poorer service at restaurants or stores. Research finds that persons who score high on those kinds of experiences, if you follow them over time, you see more rapid development of coronary heart disease. Research finds that pregnant women who report high levels of discrimination give birth to babies who are lower in birth weight."

Experiencing racism is stressful, especially when it happens all the time, and chronic stress is a health risk.

The Rutgers study authors wrote, "The present study highlights the urgent, continual, and multidimensional nature of racial discrimination for contemporary Black adolescents and highlights its ostensible role in persistent racial health inequities. We believe the high frequency and impact of racial discrimination shown in our results necessitates concomitant policy and practice that fights to institutionally prevent and treat the negative effects of racial discrimination for Black youth."

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For black Americans in particular, it's clear that racial discrimination is alive and well. As this study shows, anti-black discrimination rears its head in myriad ways, and it's not uncommon or even occasional. It's also worth noting that this was a study of black teens in predominantly black neighborhoods, which leads one to wonder how many incidents teens in more predominantly white areas may experience.

If we want to end racism for good, we all need to be more aware of how it plays out in front of us on a daily basis, and do what we can to mitigate it when we see it.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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