The University Record, December 4, 2000

Jackson receives $8 million-plus to conduct landmark National Survey of African Americans

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services
See accompanying article.

James Jackson in his office at CAAS. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services
Psychologist James S. Jackson has been awarded more than $8 million to conduct a landmark study of African American life at the start of the 21st century.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, will assess the physical, emotional, mental and economic health of a nationally representative sample of more than 4,000 Black American adults. The study will include the first national sample of more than 1,000 Blacks of Caribbean descent, a group that has been referred to by some as a “model minority.”

“Our goal is to obtain up-to-date information about the psychological condition of African Americans as a group and of important subgroups within the population,” says Jackson, who heads the Program for Research on Black Americans at the Institute for Social Research.

“At the same time, we will be gathering data about a wide range of social, economic, religious and political factors that provide the context for psychological health and disorders.

“Being a member of a minority group in America can be stressful,” Jackson notes, “and the stress of minority status is believed to influence many facets of life, including physical, economic and psychological health. As a result, Blacks and other minority groups may have higher rates of some mental disorders than whites, since they experience stresses such as racism, discrimination and prejudice to which whites are not exposed.

“How do we understand higher levels of paranoia, for example, in a population that has every reason to be paranoid, unless we develop culturally sensitive theories and interpretations that are grounded in the realities of contemporary Black lives?”

Starting in February 2001, the U-M research team will begin conducting face-to-face interviews, including comparison interviews with a sample of 1,800 non-Hispanic white adults. Approximately 2,000 Black adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 also will be interviewed, bringing the study’s total sample size to nearly 10,000 individuals.

Jackson hopes the new data will provide policy- makers and social scientists with a sound basis for understanding and addressing the status, circumstances and feelings of the African American population. “We also hope that the information will shed light on how our society needs to respond to the situation of African Americans as we move into a new and more socially, politically and economically complex century.”

Jackson is director of academic programs, Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (CAAS); director and professor, Department of Psychology; director and senior research scientist, Research Center for Group Dynamics; faculty associate, Institute of Gerontology; and professor, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education.