assistant professor of health behavior and health education at
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But for men of
color, she said, the dynamic is more complex. Historically, she
said, black men have shut down their emotions and expressed
stoicism to avoid appearing vulnerable to social threats.
However, that approach also results in poorer health outcomes.
In one study, for example, Powell and colleagues found that
masculinity norms increased African-American men’s medical
distrust. “The more you felt that you should hold your feelings
tight to your chest or disavow closeness, the more likely you
were to distrust medical providers,” said Powell, adding that such
distrust is linked to significant delays in preventive screenings.
In another study, Powell found that believing you should
shut down your emotions in the face of everyday racism
increased depression symptoms among African-American men.
Suppressing emotions may also lead men to try to numb
themselves through high-risk sex and substance use, she said.
Plus, men trying to prove their masculinity may engage in gang
violence or violence against women and children.
Barbarin called for more attention to a crucial but often-overlooked period in the lives of boys of color: middle school.
Depression, anxiety and other internalizing problems are
a major but often ignored problem in this population, said
Barbarin. While it’s true that girls are generally more depressed
than boys, that’s not the case for African-American boys, for
example. They also have increasing difficulties with emotional
regulation until age 15, when the data start showing declines.
Earlier in his career when Barbarin volunteered in schools,
religious education programs and community groups, teachers
and others would always place him with middle-school boys.
While he used to believe that teachers and others were simply
irritated by boys in this age group, Barbarin now has more
respect for those who knew these boys needed extra help.
“There really is something happening in middle school,”
said Barbarin, calling for longitudinal studies of boys of color.
“While early childhood is very important, because that’s when
you see the assembling of some of the ingredients, the ‘cooking’
happens in middle school.”
It isn’t just African-American boys and men who face
challenges, emphasized Kevin Nadal, PhD, president-elect of
the Asian American Psychological Association and executive
director of the center for LGBTQ Studies at the Graduate
Center–City University of New York. Asian-Americans are
frequently overlooked in discussions of disparities even though
Dr. Derek Griffith of Vanderbilt University, Dr. Bruce Purnell of Higher Hopes Inc., and Dr. Eric Mankowski of Portland State
University, described the impact of trauma, violence and stress on boys and men of color.