Racism Can Make You Sick

A Harvard sociologist says that racial minorities who live in race-conscious societies get sick at younger ages, have more severe illnesses and die sooner than whites. 

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The Rev. Al Sharpton leads a march in 2010 to commemorate Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

As if people of color didn't already have enough to worry about, now Harvard sociologist David Williams says that racial minorities who live in race-conscious societies get sick at younger ages, have more severe illnesses and die sooner than whites, according to Psychology Today.

Williams was one of several presenters at a conference last week in Caux, Switzerland, where more than 200 people gathered from nearly 40 countries to learn about the impact of race and racism on people's lives, writes Psychology Today's Mikahail Lyubansky, Ph.D. The full conference program is available here.

Racial health disparities are not new but most of us don't really know the specifics, possibly because there is relatively little discussion of this both in the media and among health care providers. The data in race-conscious societies are bleak. Not only in the United States, but also in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, South Africa, and the U.K., non-dominant racial groups have significantly worse health outcomes than the dominant racial group.

The pattern is consis[t]ent. According to Williams, in race-conscious societies, racial minorities get sick at younger ages, have more severe illness, and die sooner than Whites.

In New Zealand, Canada, and the United Statesm(sic.) indigenous men have a life expectancy that is 7 years less than the male average in their respective country. In Australia, the gap is 21 years (Bramley et al, 2004).

Life expectancy is obviously a meaningful outcome, but it is also a rather nebulous one. It's possible to get much more specific.  There are 10 different biomarkers associated with aging and stress. These include systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, body mass index, glycated hemoglobin, albumin, creatinine clearance, triglycerides, c-reactive protein, homocysteine, and total cholesteral. Together these comprise the Allostatic Load, the cumulative "wear and tear on the body" that occurs when individuals are exposed to repeated or chronic stress. Geronimus et al., AJPH, 2006 found significant Black-White differences in Allostatic Load in every age category, including 18-24-year-olds where Blacks scored almost 50% higher (White mean=1.1, Black mean=1.6).

Read more at Psychology Today.

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