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To assess the levels of perceived acute and chronic racial and non-racial discrimination in South Africa, their association with health, and the extent to which they contribute to racial differences in physical and mental health, data were used from a national probability sample of adults, the South African Stress and Health Study (SASH). All Black groups in South Africa (African, Coloured and Indian) were two to four times more likely than Whites to report acute and chronic experiences of racial discrimination. Africans and Coloureds report higher levels of ill health than Whites, but acute and chronic racial discrimination were unrelated to ill health and unimportant in accounting for racial differences in self-rated health. In contrast, all Black groups had higher levels of psychological distress than Whites, and perceived chronic discrimination was positively associated with distress. Moreover, these experiences accounted for some of the residual racial differences in distress after adjustment for socioeconomic status. Our main findings indicate that, in a historically racialized society, perceived chronic racial and especially non-racial discrimination acts independently of demographic factors, other stressors, psychological factors (social desirability, self-esteem and personal mastery), and multiple SES indicators to adversely affect mental health.

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This document is an author manuscript from PMC. The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Social Science & Medicine.