Ethnic pride may be as important as self-esteem to the mental health of young African-American adolescents, according to a new study in the Nov./Dec. issue of the journal Child Development.
The empirical study is one of the first to look at the effects of self-esteem and of racial identity and to separately explore their effects by gender. The study specifically measures racial identity in terms of ethnic pride.
"Our findings indicate that -- regardless of self-esteem -- as feelings of ethnic pride go up, mental health tends to increase as well," said psychologist Jelani Mandara, associate professor at Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy. "That suggests that efforts to enhance youngsters' sense of ethnic pride at home, in the classroom and in mental health settings are not just appropriate but important to their mental health."
Mandara is co-author with Maryse H. Richards and Noni Gaylord-Harden (Loyola University Chicago) and Brian Ragsdale (Walden University) of "The Effects of Changes in Racial Identity and Self-Esteem on Changes in African American Adolescents' Mental Health."
In their study, the researchers viewed self-esteem as the way adolescents feel about themselves as individuals, and ethnic pride as the way they feel about their ethnic group. Previous research generally has considered racial identity a proxy or sub-set of self-esteem.
The new study speaks to the importance of ethnic pride separate and apart from self-esteem. "Psychologists have been theorizing about this for years," Mandara said. "Our empirical evidence indicates that we'll see African-American teens with fewer depressive symptoms if we pay more attention to building ethnic pride."
It's easier to build ethnic pride than it is to influence self-esteem, he added.
Using standard self-report measures, the authors assessed 259 African-American youths from six Chicago public schools when they were in the seventh grade and again a year later in the eighth grade.
In measuring racial identity, they focused on issues of ethnic pride and replaced phrases such as "I have a lot of pride in my ethnic group" with "I have a lot of pride in Black people." They did not address issues of culture or of "public regard" -- how others look at race -- in assessing ethnic identity.
The researchers found that both male and female students showed fewer depressive symptoms if their feelings of ethnic pride rose between seventh and eighth grade whether or not their self-esteem increased.