Gendered Racial Microaggressions Increase Suicide Risk Threefold for Asian-American Women

Experiences of gendered racial microaggressions predicted a threefold increase in suicidal ideation for Asian-American women, while internalized racism in the form of self-negativity heightened this connection.

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A new study found that Asian-American women (AAW) who experience gendered racial microaggressions are three times more likely to experience suicidal ideation, which increases when they also have negative thoughts about themselves due to internalized racism.

“Alarmingly, suicide is the leading cause of death among AAW 15 to 24 years old. In response, researchers have begun to explore the complexities of suicidality among AAW, including stress from racial stereotypes such as the model minority myth that can push them to consider suicide,” write the authors.

The study was published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry and led by Brian TaeHyuk Keum, a researcher in the Department of Social Welfare at the University of California Los Angeles.

A photo of an Asian woman sitting on the floor, covering her face in sadnessGendered racism is a daily experience that dehumanizes individuals due to the intersecting systems of oppression of sexism and racism. Gendered racism for Asian American women manifests in four aspects, including ascribed submissiveness, assumption of universal appearance, Asian fetishism, and media invalidation.

“Recognizing the unique interlocking forms of oppression based on their ‘Asianness’ and ‘femaleness,’ researchers have begun to explore the experiences and negative health impacts of gendered racism among AAW,” the researchers write.

The research team conducted a quantitative analysis on a survey of 309 Asian American women from various ethnic backgrounds. This survey included measures of gendered racial microaggressions and internalized racism. Three types of internalized racism were examined: self-negativity, weakness stereotypes, and appearance bias.

Their analysis tested whether gendered racial microaggression stress was a predictor for suicidal ideation, and whether the three types of internalized racism moderated the effect. They found that gendered racial microaggressions significantly predicted suicidal ideation—with a threefold increase in risk—and that the “self-negativity” aspect of internalized racism significantly exacerbated the link between gendered racial microaggression stress and suicidal ideation.

The researchers write, “AAW who experience greater self-negativity may feel as though they are in a double bind, as they work to conform to White expectations of how they should appear (e.g. hypersexualized images) and present themselves (e.g. weak and submissive) in a bid to fit in and reduce feelings of marginalization from the mainstream White culture.”

Keum and colleagues recommend that future research consider acculturation levels, examine intersectional oppression contributing to intracommunity disparities, utilize more rigorous suicide measures, and integrate common risk factors for suicide that may result from experiences of gendered racial microaggressions (ex. thwarted belongingness and burdensomeness).

The results of this study add to the growing body of evidence concerning the connection between discrimination and suicidal thoughts, including among groups of Asian Americans.

Past research has also drawn a connection between internalized racism and negative health outcomes among Asian American individuals. Internalized racism for Asian Americans operates across three dimensions including self-negativity, weakness stereotypes, and appearance bias.

This study parallels other research that examines the social, cultural, and political aspects of suicide and prevention efforts. Such work is particularly important among marginalized communities. For example, many in the scientific community have advocated for increased attention to Black girls in suicide prevention work, as they have experienced an increase in suicide rates recently.

Additionally, past research shows that adolescents in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning communities have considered, planned, and attempted suicide at higher rates than heterosexual peers. This phenomenon may be exacerbated due to the relationship between low levels of LGBT acceptance and suicide.

 

 

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Keum, B.T., Wong, M.J., & Salim-Eissa, E. (2022). Gendered racial microaggressions, internalized racism, and suicidal ideation among emerging adult Asian American women. International Journal of Social Psychiatry. 1-9. DOI: 10.1177/00207640221089536. (Full text)

1 COMMENT

  1. I spent some of my life becoming an artist. I drew portraits. Still do occasionally, but mostly the portraits of animals. There is a well known phenomenon in art. Artists consistently draw their own features into the likeness of the person sitting for a sketch. All of Leonardo da Vinci’s portraits have an ethereal similarity to his own portrait, the aquiline nose, the dreamy eyes, pronounced cheek bones. Every artists does this subconsciously, as if searching in the mirror of the canvas for familiar features. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow with someone else’s face. Even if it was beautiful you would be shocked and want your own features back.

    When we are babies we favour the face of our mother or father. These saviour faces are subject to our infantile adoration. And so we grow up with a bias towards our mother or fathers features, as profound examples of what a lovely face means to us, and as we grow to examining our own dear face we have a bias to our inherited features also. All of this means that for much of adult life we pursue prospective partners who have one or two features that match either our mother’s face or father’s face, or our own face. To us these examples are normal and pleasing and friendly and known. But when we ecounter quite different faces we can be astonished at the sheer variety. Artists learn to counteract the tendency to superimpose their features onto a human sitter. Some artists even put a similar facial expression onto a pet’s portrait. A grumpy old hound will be drawn as if dewy eyed and ecstatic. And we have all heard of a date being snubbed not because the person was dull but because they had a double chin or a lack of cheekbones or not enough of a beaming smile. Humans are so fussy. But you cannot force love. To force love destroys love. Love must be free to be moving in and out of love at any moment, to alighn with free choice, that vital route to wellbeing and calm and caring and compassion. But what nobody should allow is a level of bullying lovelessness. Racism is bullying. It goes from observing and celebrating difference to punishing difference. Punishments come from anger. Anger comes from fear. The fear is about fear of loss. It seems like fear of loss of control but on a deeper level it is fear of mortality and all the vulnerability that goes with mortality. The lovelessly bullying fear mortal weakness in themselves and even the weakness towards emotionality they see in others. Others who like the way they look and feel celebratory of their exciting difference.

    I am not human. I have an association with off planet beings. Some people wonder why aliens have not made contact with the billions of Earth inhabitants. But aliens, much like the world’s lovely variety of six hundred species of animals, look different, and would be met with a startle from humankind, or human not so kind at all. It is important to cherish the difference. Not least because extra terrestial beings won’t want to say “good evening” until we do.

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