Commentary: Racism and Our Health

Saturday, 29 August 2009 22:34 Written by  Alyce Maddocks

From the times when Christopher Columbus stumbled upon our country, through Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X’s struggle to now, racism has found a way to bleed through history. Though the fight against racism isn’t as formidable as it used to be, racism has been found to directly and indirectly affect the health of minorities, Newsweek has investigated.

Instead of police forces watering down protesting African Americans in the street with hoses, racism has taken a more subtle approach and is still very much alive.racism

The most major and important way in which racism affects minorities is, surprisingly, stress, according Newsweek. We’ve all heard how stress can have horrible and strongly negative effects on the body, but most don’t seem to take this fact seriously. Studies found by recent government reports show African Americans suffer from more avoidable health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, than Caucasians of the same age, weight, etc. Apparently dealing with high stress situations and being stressed out in general leads to a deterioration of the immune system and the body’s ability to handle day-to-day activities efficiently. Being excessively hostile, angry or depressed because of a person or situation has the power to make us sick. Instead of giving others that power over us, we as a people should learn to forgive and forget. Easier said than done, right?

Naturally, minorities who have financial trouble and bad living situations have more to stress about and end up more unhealthy because of all the things keeping them unhappy.  This comes into play when minorities have to deal with racism in everyday life: at work, school or anywhere public. Worrying about whether you’ll be passed over for a promotion because of the color of your skin, be ridiculed or even physically harmed for the same reason will definitely wear a person out.

Tragically, another way in which racism plays a wholehearted role in our society is through health care, as researched by the New York Times. The Times found a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs that states African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities don’t always hear the full truth about what’s wrong with their health from their doctors. These groups are sometimes treated less hospitably because they are more likely to not have quality, if any, health insurance. Although incredibly unfair, according to these findings, some health care professionals will hold back information about an individual’s health based solely on race or stereotype.  

Those we trust our health with may feel that minorities won’t be able to go through with surgeries or afford medication, so it’s better to just ignore the problem completely and carry on as if nothing is wrong. Knowing this alone will send my blood pressure up and make me apart of the stressed out statistic. How can we live in a society that’s okay with letting people suffer and possibly die because they may not have expensive health insurance or may have more trouble paying for surgical procedures than, say, a Caucasian person?  

Research professor Arline Geronimus has conducted many studies and written many papers on this very topic. Geronimus studied the blood levels of African Americans against Caucasians to prove that the lifestyles and stress levels of an environment will eventually cause wear and tear on the body, making the quality of life and the life span significantly shorter and enjoyable than the life of someone who isn’t a minority. Though the proof is right in front of our faces, many in Geronimus’ field aggressively disagree with her. Looking at the history and struggles of minorities in this country, we have to ask ourselves: How can we ignore what we’ve seen so much evidence of in the past?


*Photography by Billy Montgomery

Alyce Maddocks

Alyce Maddocks

Alyce Maddocks is originally from Queens, New York but is currently residing in Charlotte, NC. She is a first year magazine journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. With an interest and passion for an array of music and literature, she looks forward to honing her writing skills so she can pursue her dream of being a music journalist.

She can be contacted at

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