Valerie Brown, JD, MA, PCC
The emotional, physical, and psychological toll of racism, whether in the form of implicit bias, microaggressions, racialized trauma, structural and systemic racism, is the unrelenting lived experience of many Black people. Racism, whether experienced directly or vicariously through the traumatic video footage of the murder of George Floyd and other killings, the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black people, or unlawful police violence perpetrated against Black people, contribute to overwhelm, exhaustion, and heightened vigilance. This results in mental, physical, and emotional deterioration within the Black community and is passed down from generation to generation.
Studies have shown that Black people in particular experience early health deterioration as a consequence of the cumulative impact of the repeated experience of social and economic adversity and political marginalization. On a physiological level, persistent, high-effort coping with acute and chronic stressors has a profound effect on health. The stress inherent in living in a race-conscious society, that stigmatizes and disadvantages Blacks, is linked to disproportionate physiological deterioration, exhaustion, and staggering fatigue.
Black individuals may show the morbidity and mortality typical of a White individual who is significantly older. Not only do Blacks experience poor health at earlier ages than do Whites, but this deterioration in health accumulates, producing ever-greater racial inequality in health with age through middle adulthood. Researchers coined the term allostatic load, or the cumulative wear and tear on the body’s systems owing to repeated adaptation to stressors.
These health outcomes are fueled by racism, discrimination in housing, education, employment, and other socioeconomic factors, contributes to this inequality. Lifestyle and diet changes alone cannot mitigate the harsh effects of systemic and structural racism and require a comprehensive approach.
As Black people we are committed, now more than ever, to prioritizing self-care, self-empathy, and self-love. Try this practice: Stop, pause, and breathe. Recognize your sense of well being in this moment. Generate within yourself a feeling of gratitude even for the smallest moment of cherishing yourself. Notice how you feel.