Every year, the Hogg Foundation gives the Frances Fowler Wallace Memorial Award for Mental Health Dissertation Research to eligible doctoral candidates at institutions of higher education in Texas. Awardees receive a scholarship to help cover research-related expenses.
One of our 2020 recipients is Ijeoma Madubata. Ijeoma Madubata is a current fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Houston. Her research interests include culturally informed risk and protective factors for mood disturbance and suicide behavior in African American communities. We talked with Ijeoma about her latest research on racial trauma and resilience and African American adults.
Your project is about examining the moderating effect of resilience on the association between racial trauma and psychological well-being in African American adults. What led you to take a professional interest in this topic, and what questions are you trying to answer with this research?
I was primarily interested in this topic because I wanted to examine this existing narrative that surrounds African Americans regarding resilience. African Americans have historically been subjected to racial trauma in systemic ways. Despite constant exposure to racism, African Americans exhibit resilience and hardiness in the form of outward success. I believe that this results in society minimizing the debilitating effects that racial trauma has on psychological well-being under the guise of the narrative, “African Americans are so resilient.” This is explored further in John Henryism, Sojourner Syndrome, and the adage, “work twice as hard to get half as far.” I strive to highlight the importance of understanding how debilitating racial trauma is even when African Americans exhibit trait resilience. In other words, is there a threshold of racial trauma where resilience is not as effective? I specifically aim to examine the moderating effect of resilience on the association between clinically assessed racial trauma and psychological well-being in African American adults.
How do you think your research methods and approach will help you answer the questions you’re posing?
My study consists of two parts. The first part is an online survey in which participants provide self-reported assessments of race-based stress, resilience, and psychological well-being). The second part is a clinical interview in which I assess whether participants endorse racial trauma with the UConn Racial/Ethnic Stress and Trauma Survey. After concluding data collection, I plan to examine the moderating effect of resilience on the association between racial trauma and psychological well-being using structural equation modeling. I predict that resilience will have more diminishing returns for African Americans who endorse racial trauma as well as more severe racial trauma symptoms. Importantly, the clinical interview will provide qualitative data that future studies can examine for examples of racial trauma commonly experienced by African Americans.
What, from your perspective, is the biggest area of need — or the greatest opportunity – related to this topic? In other words, how could we really move the needle on this front?
I hope to help reframe the current narrative regarding resilience in African American communities. While resilience is an important protective factor to highlight, it is crucial to validate how harmful chronic exposure to race-based stressors is for African Americans even when they exhibit resilience. Clinically, this will also help conceptualize racial trauma through a diagnostic framework worthy of clinical intervention. Clinicians must consider race-based stressors as legitimate risk factors for mental illness and implement culturally sensitive interventions that target racial trauma unique to African Americans. Importantly, clinicians must validate their African American clients’ experiences with racial trauma, as such experiences are extremely common.
Can you suggest a few readings/resources for those who are interested in learning more about this topic?
Gladly! This is an important topic and I’m happy to know that this field is growing.
- Brody, Gene H., Yu, T., Chen, E., Miller, G. E., Kogan, S. M., & Beach, S. R. H. (2013). Is Resilience Only Skin Deep?: Rural African Americans’ Socioeconomic Status–Related Risk and Competence in Preadolescence and Psychological Adjustment and Allostatic Load at Age 19. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1285–1293. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612471954
- Comas-Díaz, L., Hall, G. N., & Neville, H. A. (2019). Racial trauma: Theory, research, and healing: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 74(1), 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000442
- Harrell, S. P. (2000). A Multidimensional Conceptualization of Racism-Related Stress: Implications for the Well-Being of People of Color. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70(1), 42–57.
- Williams, M. T., Metzger, I. W., Leins, C., & DeLapp, C. (2018). Assessing racial trauma within a DSM–5 framework: The UConn Racial/Ethnic Stress & Trauma Survey. Practice Innovations, 3(4), 242–260. https://doi.org/10.1037/pri0000076