Fact Sheet How Structural Racism Shapes Black Americans’ Sense of Self
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Understanding Meta-Oppression and Its Effects in the Credit System
Kassandra Martinchek, Rose Mary Brown
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For many Black Americans the doors to critical wealth-building tools that easily open for their white counterparts are locked or obstructed because of centuries-long discriminatory policies and practices. Without these same opportunities, Black Americans are often left behind, perpetually playing against a stacked deck.

Structural racism not only shapes the outcomes that people experience in all sectors of life, but it also has psychological effects on what Black Americans think is possible. This psychological stress from dealing with persistent structural racism across society is called meta-oppression, a concept developed by Dr. Jacqueline Scott.

Through a study of Black Chicago residents’ experiences with the credit system, we found that Black Americans internalized feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and despair, all of which hindered their willingness to further engage with the credit system. By illuminating the diverse effects of structural racism on the lives of Black Americans, we hope to reveal key opportunities for policy and practice to interrupt meta-oppression and advance racial equity across society.

What We Found

Our interviewees described four symptoms of meta-oppression that shaped how they perceived their financial futures and their role within them:

  • Lack of hope that their economic circumstances could change, including describing how the credit system can be slow to reward good financial behaviors and often leaves them feeling stuck with subpar options. Many felt they were constantly coping with financial emergencies and stuck in their existing situation.
  • Diminished self-confidence and self-worth, as they felt that they were a “bad person” because of poor credit. Interviewees felt culpable for their financial circumstances, which weighed on their self-esteem.
  • Lack of agency to change their circumstances and the broader system, as their efforts to combat structural racism in the credit system did not change their day-to-day financial lives. Interviewees ultimately felt that they had to accept the current system.
  • Shame and self-blame over prior financial decisions. Interviewees reported feeling anxious when discussing credit and attempted to keep their credit private.

As one interviewee said, “Sometimes [my credit would] play on my [confidence], my self-esteem, because it was just like, okay, this doesn’t make sense—you’re this old and you can’t do this because your credit is this, so…it plays on your mental, your confidence level, especially when you’re a single parent.”

Despite the effects of structural racism on interviewees’ visions for the financial future, these effects do not have to be permanent—policymakers and practitioners can enact efforts to interrupt meta-oppression’s symptoms. By evaluating the effects of programs and policies through the lens of meta-oppression, advancing efforts to dismantle structural racism, shifting program and policy designs to address the psychological effects of structural racism, and investing in further research, policymakers can deepen our understanding of meta-oppression.

How We Did It

To better understand how structural racism affects consumers’ experiences with meta-oppression in the credit system, we conducted interviews with 16 Black residents of Chicago, Illinois. We then thematically coded these interviews according to different dimensions of meta-oppression, creating subthemes that emerged across multiple interviews.

Research Areas Wealth and financial well-being Race and equity
Tags Family credit and debt Asset and debts Race, gender, class, and ethnicity
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
Research Methods Qualitative data analysis
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