Perceived racial discrimination has detrimental impacts on the mental health of racial minorities. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, discrimination against Asian American (AA) women both dramatically increased and became more violent. These changes may have impacted mental health of AA women to the point that racial identity is dismantled. This study aims to examine the impact of direct and indirect COIVD-19-related discrimination on racial identity and the racial consciousness of AA women using mix-methods approach of concurrent triangulation.
This project collected data from women who were at least 18 years old and identified as AA before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic stay-home-order. Quantitative data were collected from 96 and 48 women in waves 1 (before COVID-19) and 3 (after the easing of most COVID-19 restrictions), respectively. During stay-home-order (wave 2), open-ended questions in survey were asked regarding direct and indirect racial discrimination experiences and their impact on the racial identity as an AA.
Quantitatively, a longitudinal association between perceived racial discrimination and racial consciousness is examined using a linear mixed model considering age, income, and mental health distress. Racial consciousness is measured by asking how often respondents think about their race. Qualitatively, the sense of racial identity during COVID-19 was thematically analyzed.
Quantitatively, almost half of AA women reported that they have been conscious about their race before and after COVID-19. Perceived racial discrimination is significantly related to an increased level of racial consciousness (b=.07, se=0.02).
Qualitatively, four themes related to the racial identity emerged due to COVID-19 related racial discrimination: 1) racial hyperconsciousness, 2) wakening to social political consciousness, 3) resilient AA identity, and 4) empowered AA identity. AA women became hyperconscious about being Asian in public spaces, a sense that would even block them from going to the grocery store. Some AA women realized sociopolitical positionality of AA in terms of marginalization and otherness. On the other hand, some AA women’s racial identity was not affected by the recent surge in racial discrimination. Two subgroups of those not affected were found: (1) those whose racial identity was already very strong and (2) those who had been aware that racial discrimination existed even before the pandemic. Lastly, AA women experienced an empowered racial identity and desire to stand up for other marginalized individuals.
Conclusion and Implication
Quantitative and qualitative results together show that the surge of discrimination during the pandemic had detrimental effects on the racial consciousness and identity. The high proportion of race consciousness among AA women appeared to indicate the painful racial climate in which these women were placed and endured. The racial climate has shaped AA women’s racial identity in various forms ranging from hyperconsciousness to an empowered racial identity. This study helps us better understand the current state of AA racial identity by including the complex and dynamic development of racial identity during the pandemic. It provides practice implication for social workers by outlining the variety of changes AA women experience during and through COVID-19 pandemic.