Racial Discrimination as Race-Based Trauma, Coping Strategies, and Dissociative Symptoms Among Emerging Adults

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Abstract

Objective: The race-based traumatic stress theory (Carter, 2007) suggests that some racial- and ethnic-minority individuals experience racial discrimination as psychological trauma, as it may elicit a response comparable to posttraumatic stress. In the present study, we examined this further by determining the relation between racial discrimination and dissociation, a common response to trauma exposure. Further, we examined whether active coping strategies specifically employed to cope with racial discrimination related to less dissociative symptomatology. Method: The predominant racial- and ethnic-minority sample (N = 743) of emerging adults, ages 18–29, recruited from a public university in northeastern United States completed a battery of self-report measures on racial discrimination, responses to racial discrimination, traumatic life events, and dissociative symptoms. Results: Frequency of racial discrimination was positively associated with dissociative symptoms in regression analyses adjusted for demographics and other traumatic life events. In addition, more active coping strategies in response to racial discrimination were negatively associated with dissociative symptoms. Conclusion: Racial- and ethnic-minority emerging adults who experience racial discrimination, possibly as traumatic, may be more vulnerable to dissociative symptoms. However, different strategies of coping with racial discrimination may differentially impact risk for dissociation.

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