Friday, November 30, 2007

The Color-Line is a Killer

Another piece in the press is addressing the relationship between racism and the physical health of blacks in America. Here's a little bit of a recent editorial in the Portland Press Herald:

There has been a quickly emerging field of research that demonstrates that racism hurts the health of the body. According to Madeline Drexler, a medical columnist and visiting lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health, more than 100 studies now document the effects of racial discrimination on physical health.

According to Drexler, research has suggested that racism acts a classic stressor in the same physiological ways as job strain and marital conflict; elevating heart rates, increasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol and suppressing immunity.

In the 1990s, the Harvard School of Public Health's social epidemiologist, Nancy Krieger, confirmed that "race-based discriminatory experiences were associated with higher blood pressure" and that "not talking to others about the experience or not taking action against the inequity, raised blood pressure even more."

The timing of these kinds of studies is noteworthy, as lawmakers and government officials begin to focus more on the racial disparities in the quality of American health care. Despite social and economic growth, people of color are still dying at a higher rate from heart disease, diabetes, stroke and hypertension. (Read the whole thing here)

One of the things that has long bothered me about the way that some people talk about racism in contemporary America, is that it is viewed as something which just makes black people feel bad. Thus blacks should just “toughen up” and not let lingering forms of racist ignorance bother them. To view racism this way is to trivialize its impact on those who experience it. I think of the many relatives I have who suffer from the diseases mentioned in this editorial and how conventional wisdom says that it’s because of unhealthy lifestyles or bad luck with genes as if living in a society where your humanity remains an open question had nothing to do with it. This is also not simply an issue of poverty because even blacks who are not poor are disproportionately afflicted with these kinds of ailments. There is something very wrong in any society where a person’s race can exert such a strong influence on their quality of life. Gladly people like the person who wrote the editorial are holding a mirror up to the ongoing national shame of blacks lives lost unnecessarily due to racism. If you know people who may be unfamiliar with the research in this area, spread the word. Blacks in America are not just dying from violent crime.

"Adorn ye the temple of dominion with the ornament of justice and of the fear of God, and its head with the crown of the remembrance of your Lord, the Creator of the heavens. Thus counselleth you He Who is the Dayspring of Names, as bidden by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. The Promised One hath appeared in this glorified Station, whereat all beings, both seen and unseen, have rejoiced. Take ye advantage of the Day of God. Verily, to meet Him is better for you than all that whereon the sun shineth, could ye but know it. O concourse of rulers! Give ear unto that which hath been raised from the Dayspring of Grandeur: Verily, there is none other God but Me, the Lord of Utterance, the All-Knowing. Bind ye the broken with the hands of justice, and crush the oppressor who flourisheth with the rod of the commandments of your Lord, the Ordainer, the All-Wise."
(Baha'u'llah, Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 20)