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Ethn Dis. 1996 Winter-Spring;6(1-2):176-89.

Social identity and arterial blood pressure in the African-American community.

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Department of Behavioral and Community Medicine, University of Alabama School of Medicine, Tuscaloosa 35487-0326, USA.


It has been suggested that racism may account in part for health inequalities between African Americans and other ethnic groups in the United States. While there is a strong plausibility to this suggestion, specifying the causal pathways through which enduring patterns of prejudice and discrimination affect pathophysiologic processes has proven difficult. The aim of this paper is to suggest just such a specification of this effect, building on prior work locating this process in social interaction. It is argued that, in mundane social interaction, African-American ethnicity as a status attribute overrides the other social attributes through which individuals structure the social identities that mediate mundane social interaction. Three specific variables that influence social identity are examined: lifestyle incongruity, stressful life events, and identity accumulation. Using data collected in an African-American community in the rural South, it was found that these three variables are related to blood pressure in interaction with socioeconomic status. Additionally, each of the three variables is related to individuals' perceptions of racism in mundane interactions. This pattern of results suggests that the attribution of lower social status to African-American ethnicity within the color-conscious society of the U.S., and the subsequent effect of this attribution on social interaction, in part account for observed health inequalities.

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