IOWA CITY, IA — New research from the University of Iowa suggest that people who
are routinely misidentified as members of a racial group to which they do not
belong experience high levels of emotional distress and are more likely to
contemplate or attempt suicide. "The Implications of Racial Misclassification by
Observers," by sociologists Lisa Troyer and Mary Campbell, appears in the
October issue of the American Sociological Review
Campbell analyzed data collected between 1994 and 2002 for the National
Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which included both the self-reported
racial identification of the young adults in the study and the racial identity
assigned by an observer.
They found that more than a third of the
American Indian youth in the nationally representative sample were mis-labeled
by an observer as members of another racial group, while less than 5 percent of
white, Black, and Asian participants in the study were identified
Among the American Indians in the study who were
misidentified, 13 percent reported thinking about suicide, compared to only 6
percent of those who were identified correctly. Three percent of the
misidentified young people had attempted suicide, while 1 percent who were
identified correctly had done so. The misidentified young people were also more
likely to be seeing a counselor or therapist (8 percent to 5 percent). They also
found that mis-classified American Indians were more likely to participate in
organizations that emphasize racial and ethnic identity, perhaps creating
connections that help deal with the stress.
"Previous studies of
multi-racial Americans have given us anecdotal evidence that constantly having
to explain your racial background is stressful for people," Campbell said.
"People say, 'I'm constantly being asked what I am, and I don't fit any of the
boxes.' They talk about it as if it is stressful, but until now we didn't have
data to support these observations."
This study is the first to document
empirical evidence of the stress associated with not being recognized as a
member of the racial group with which one identifies.
"According to the
Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death among
young American Indians, age 25-34 years, and the third leading cause of death
among young American Indians age 10-24 years," Troyer said. "Standard
explanations of suicide do not fully explain the racial gap. Our study offers a
new window to understanding this disturbing disparity.
"Adolescence is a
critical time in human development, a time when identity becomes crystallized,"
she continued. "Race is important to identity and when your race is not
recognized by others it is stressful."
While the current study is focused
on American Indians, Campbell and Troyer note that the increasing multiracial
diversity in the United States makes the study potentially applicable to other
For a copy of the study or to request an interview, please
contact Sujata Sinha, at (202) 247-9871 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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