Daily Experiences of Discrimination: Voices from Milwaukee

July 11, 2024

Racial discrimination continues to be a common experience with 50%–60% of Black Americans reporting being treated differently and negatively because of their race (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017). Typical forms of racial discrimination include exclusion, stigmatization, social distancing, harassment, and/or maltreatment (Brondolo et al., 2005). Racial discrimination can occur a variety of settings including the workplace, within health care, or in school among others (Williams et al., 2019).


Experiences of racial discrimination may trigger the same stress responses like in other forms of trauma. It’s critical to understand experiences of racial discrimination as it has been associated with health in a variety of ways including early death, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, diabetes, and other medical conditions (Brown et al., 2018; Loberg et al.,2018; Panza et al., 2019).


The D.R.I.V.E. research study included 400 Black American adults living in Milwaukee seeking services from the SDC to learn how common racial discrimination was in their daily lives (see questions below). Participants reported experiencing discrimination, on average, 254 times per year, nearly everyday. Some participants even reported experiencing discrimination over 5x every day. When considering the different types of discrimination, people said they experienced roughly 4.5 of the 9 situations of discrimination asked on the survey in their lifetime.


The level of racial discrimination reported by Black Americans in the D.R.I.V.E study is very high and may increase risk for poor health. Repeated experiences of racial discrimination can continually activate bodily systems attempting to regulate the stress, which over time, can lead to physical ‘wear and tear’ (Forde et al., 2019; Geronimus, 1992; Goosby et al., 2018). Living with racism in Milwaukee has a negative impact on our community and the lives and wellbeing of Black residents (Geronimus, 1992; Carter et al., 2021). The key to reducing these negative consequences is finding support in one another, using the neighborhood or community as are source, and taking part in daily healthy behaviors, like exercise, sleep, and a nutritious diet. The ongoing vast experiences of racism shared by D.R.I.V.E. participants amplifies the need to address this prevalent issue at the community, county and state level.

Everyday  Discrimination Scale

In  your day-to-day life, how often do any of the following things happen to you?

1.     You are treated with less courtesy than other people are.

2.     You are treated with less respect than other people are.

3.     You receive poorer service than other people at restaurants or stores.

4.     People act as if they think you are not smart.

5.     People act as if they are afraid of you.

6.     People act as if they think you are dishonest.

7.     People act as if they’re better than you are.

8.     You are called names or insulted.

9.     You are threatened or harassed.

The D.R.I.V.E. study was supported by a grant from the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Foundation.


  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2017). Discrimination in America: Experiences and views of African Americans. https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2017/10/discrimination-in-america-experiences-and-views.html
  • Williams, D. R., & Mohammed, S. A. (2013). Racism and health I: Pathways and scientific evidence. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(8), 1152–1173.https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764213487340
  • Brondolo, E., Kelly, K. P., Coakley, V., Gordon, T., Thompson, S., Levy,E., Cassells, A., Tobin, J. N., Sweeney, M., & Contrada, R. J. (2005). The Perceived Ethnic Discrimination Questionnaire: Development and preliminary validation of a community version. Journal of Applied SocialPsychology, 35(2), 335–365. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2005.tb02124.x
  • Brown, T.T., Partanen, J.,Chuong, L., Villaverde, V., Griffin, A.C., Mendelson, A., 2018. Discriminationhurts: the effect of discrimination on the development of chronic pain. Soc.Sci. Med. 204, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.03.015.
  • Loberg, J.A., Hayward, R.D.,Fessler, M., Edhayan, E., 2018. Associations of race, mechanism of injury, andneighborhood poverty with in-hospital mortality from trauma: a population-basedstudy in the Detroit metropolitan area. Medicine 97 (39). https://doi.org/10.1097/md.0000000000012606.
  • Panza, G.A., Puhl, R.M.,Taylor, B.A., Zaleski, A.L., Livingston, J., Pescatello, L.S., 2019. Linksbetween discrimination and cardiovascular health among socially stigmatizedgroups: A systematic review. PLoS One 14 (6), e0217623.
  • Geronimus, A.T., 1992. The weathering hypothesis and the health of African-American women and infants:evidence and speculations. Ethn. Dis. 2 (3), 207–221.http:// www.jstor.org/stable/45403051.
  • Carter, R.T., 2007. Racism and psychological and emotional injury: Recognizing and assessing race-based traumatic stress. Couns. Psychol. 35 (1), 13–105.
  • Forde, A.T., Crookes, D.M.,Suglia, S.F., Demmer, R.T., 2019. The weathering hypothesis as an explanationfor racial disparities in health: a systematic review. Ann. Epidemiol. 33, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annepidem.2019.02.011.