Racism: Impact On Mind/Body

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When African-Americans are shown a racially provocative scene on television, their blood pressure and heart rate rises., A yet-to-be published study by Elizabeth Brondolo, a psychologist at St. John’s University in New York, found that racism experienced in the day led to elevated blood pressure at night

(Note: Boston Globe article original; this article is a summary appearing in The Wall Street Journal's "Insights and Items of Interest From Other Sources" section).


Research into the physical effects of racism on its victims could help explain a disparity in health across races and reframe racism as a health issue.

Health experts have long blamed racial disparities on social forces, linking higher rates of disease and death among African-Americans to joblessness unsafe housing, and other inequities. This round of research, which scientists stress is preliminary, seeks to establish if racism itself plays a role. In more than 100 studies on the subject, most of them published since 2000, some patterns have been established reports Madeline Drexler.

Discrimination seems to act as a source of chronic stress the same way that marital conflict or strains at work do, increasing the stress hormone cortisol, raising blood pressure, and suppressing the immune system. High stress also has been linked to overeating and smoking.

When African-Americans are shown a racially provocative scene on television, their blood pressure and heart rate rises., A yet-to-be published study by Elizabeth Brondolo, a psychologist at St. John’s University in New York, found that racism experienced in the day led to elevated blood pressure at night, suggesting the body can’t turn off its stress response.

When Jules Harrell, a Howard University psychology professor, saw the Rutgers University women’s college-basketball team players after Don Imus labeled them with a racial epithet he was moved by their reserve. “The expression on their faces. All I could think was, ‘Good God, I’d hate to see their cortisol levels.’”

Studies have shown that the stress suppressing the inner turmoil caused by racist encounters can itself lead to ill effects.

Skeptics say the research lacks an objective definition of racial discrimination. These studies overly rely on their volunteers’ accounts of racial discrimination. Scholars in the field say they are following the same procedures used in studies of depression, anger, and post-traumatic disorder.

 


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