Jim Crow's Legacy: Segregation Stress Syndrome



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This dissertation is based on a qualitative research project that documents the experiences of nearly 100 elderly African Americans who lived in the total institution of Jim Crow. The collective long lasting psychological effects connected with the racial violence that occurred in the total institution are a critical aspect. In the interviews African Americans shared how on a daily basis they found themselves dealing with anxiety, fear, humiliation, shame, and stress. The narratives were analyzed utilizing the extended case method. The dissertation documents and explores symptoms of a "segregation stress syndrome" for the chronic, enduring, extremely painful experiences and responses to the total institution of Jim Crow that are indicated by numerous respondents in this research project. Preliminary findings indicate that the symptoms of "segregation stress syndrome" are similar to PTSD symptoms documented in psychiatric literature. However, "segregation stress syndrome" differs from PTSD because the traumatic experience was not a one-time occurrence; it was sustained, over time, in African American communities. In addition, the racial violence that occurred was a form of systematic chronic stress, the type that has been shown to have a detrimental impact on a person's psychological well-being. Lastly, the historical and collective trauma that ensued has contributed to an intergenerational aspect of "segregation stress syndrome." The intergenerational aspect predisposes some younger African Americans to psychological damage, stress, and trauma even though contemporary forms of racial violence are seemingly less damaging.