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Discrimination and psychological distress: Does Whiteness matter for Arab Americans?


  • Abdulrahim, Sawsan
  • James, Sherman A.
  • Yamout, Rouham
  • Baker, Wayne


The white racial category in the U.S. encompasses persons who have Arab ancestry. Arab Americans, however, have always occupied a precarious position in relationship to Whiteness. This study examined differences in reporting racial/ethnic discrimination among Arab Americans. It also investigated whether and how the association between discrimination and psychological distress varies by characteristics that capture an Arab American's proximity to/distance from Whiteness. We used data from the Detroit Arab American Study (2003; n = 1016), which includes measures of discrimination and the Kessler-10 scale of psychological distress. A series of logistic regression models were specified to test the discrimination–psychological distress association, stratified by five measures that capture Whiteness – subjective racial identification, religion, skin color, ethnic centrality, and residence in the ethnic enclave. Discrimination was more frequently reported by Muslim Arab Americans, those who racially identify as non-white, and who live in the ethnic enclave. Conversely, the association between discrimination and psychological distress was stronger for Christian Arab Americans, those who racially identify as white, who have dark skin color, and who live outside the ethnic enclave. Even though Arab Americans who occupy an identity location close to Whiteness are less subjected to discrimination, they are more negatively affected by it. The findings illuminate the complex pathways through which discrimination associates with psychological distress among ‘white’ immigrants. Further research on discrimination and health among Arab Americans can help unpack the white racial category and deconstruct Whiteness.

Suggested Citation

  • Abdulrahim, Sawsan & James, Sherman A. & Yamout, Rouham & Baker, Wayne, 2012. "Discrimination and psychological distress: Does Whiteness matter for Arab Americans?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(12), pages 2116-2123.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:12:p:2116-2123
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.07.030

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ford, Chandra L. & Harawa, Nina T., 2010. "A new conceptualization of ethnicity for social epidemiologic and health equity research," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 251-258, July.
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    3. repec:aph:ajpbhl:2003:93:2:200-208_6 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Joni Hersch, 2008. "Profiling the New Immigrant Worker: The Effects of Skin Color and Height," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(2), pages 345-386, April.
    5. Ford, Chandra L. & Airhihenbuwa, Collins O., 2010. "The public health critical race methodology: Praxis for antiracism research," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(8), pages 1390-1398, October.
    6. repec:aph:ajpbhl:1998:88:9:1303-1307_6 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Viruell-Fuentes, Edna A., 2007. "Beyond acculturation: Immigration, discrimination, and health research among Mexicans in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(7), pages 1524-1535, October.
    8. repec:aph:ajpbhl:10.2105/ajph.2009.173062_2 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Diane Lauderdale, 2006. "Birth outcomes for Arabic-named women in California before and after September 11," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 43(1), pages 185-201, February.
    10. Abdulrahim, Sawsan & Baker, Wayne, 2009. "Differences in self-rated health by immigrant status and language preference among Arab Americans in the Detroit Metropolitan Area," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(12), pages 2097-2103, June.
    11. Borrell, Luisa N. & Kiefe, Catarina I. & Williams, David R. & Diez-Roux, Ana V. & Gordon-Larsen, Penny, 2006. "Self-reported health, perceived racial discrimination, and skin color in African Americans in the CARDIA study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(6), pages 1415-1427, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Samari, Goleen, 2016. "Cross-border ties and Arab American mental health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 155(C), pages 93-101.
    2. Perreira, Krista M. & Telles, Edward E., 2014. "The color of health: Skin color, ethnoracial classification, and discrimination in the health of Latin Americans," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 241-250.


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