Share on Pinterest
Before healthcare can truly improve for Black people in America, the medical community needs to recognize that racism is a health crisis and treat it as such. Getty Images
  • Racism deeply affects the physical and mental health of Black people in a number of ways.
  • Many conditions and illnesses disproportionally affect Black people, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, several types of cancer, and COVID-19.
  • Research has shown that healthcare providers treat Black patients differently than white patients, recommending lifesaving procedures to white patients more often while being less likely to administer pain relief in emergency rooms to nonwhite patients.

After 5 days of protests against police brutality in Columbus, Ohio, the city council organized a virtual meeting and to classify racism as a public health crisis.

Joining that meeting was Ohio State University (OSU) President Michael V. Drake, who gave his “unqualified support” to the resolution.

“The burden of being Black in America is not only exploding in our bodies, it’s spilling into the streets. If we don’t begin treating this as a health crisis, our communities will never heal,” said Drake, who then committed the university’s staff and resources toward addressing the issue.

体育投注网址Dr. Nwando Olayiwola, chair of the department of family medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, admires how Drake called racism a health crisis.

“There are many institutions across the nation that are still not comfortable actually saying that, so I think calling it by its name is hugely important as a first [step]” to addressing it, Olayiwola said.

In the medical community, there’s a growing body of research confirming that racism, in addition to being a societal ill, is indeed a public health crisis, one that has been hard to ignore with the arrival of COVID-19.

The pandemic has revealed stark disparities among racial lines in health outcomes. Death rates for Black and Hispanic/Latino people are in every age category, according to data from the .

体育投注网址The disparity is especially apparent in younger brackets. Death rates of Black and Hispanic/Latino people ages 45 to 54 are at least six times higher than rates for white people.

While geography may play some part in these disparities, there are deeper forces at work.

released in February from Auburn University found that racist encounters caused sustained stress among a group of African Americans, which in turn led to cellular aging.

, ScD, who helmed the research team, called racism “a social toxin” that “becomes embedded at the cellular level.”

This would help explain why, for example, Black men continue to have shorter life expectancies than white men (72.2 years vs. 76.6 years, respectively, in 2011, according to the ).

体育投注网址Stress stemming from biased encounters is far from the only factor that leads to shorter life spans.

Racism is a “multisystem agitator,” said , director of the Health Disparities Institute and associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health.

体育投注网址Its “many tentacles” are wrapped around the policies, practices, and procedures that govern (and harm) Black lives, she says.

“There is more than enough evidence to affirm that racism in all of its myriad forms has significant detrimental impacts or implications for the health of Black Americans,” Powell said.

Racism’s harm to health is both physical and mental. Experiencing an act like racial profiling or a microaggression can lead to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and trauma for a Black person.

体育投注网址A from UCLA and University of Southern California scientists showed that the “toxic effect” of stress caused by racism can trigger an immune system response that increases chronic inflammation in Black people, which in turn causes a host of health problems like heart disease and metastatic cancer.

equate higher education with less stress and longer life spans. Wealth is also tied to better health, leaving a bleak outlook for those with few opportunities for employment and upward mobility.

Long histories of discrimination sow distrust in institutions among people of color. And this spills over into the healthcare system.

“If you experience a lot of racism in your everyday life, you’re more likely to believe, and rationally so, that you could experience the same racism while trying to get your healthcare needs met,” Powell said.

This perception is earned. Research has shown that healthcare providers treat Black patients differently than white patients.

A found that physicians are more likely to recommend a cardiac procedure to white patients presenting with the same symptoms as Black patients. Nonwhite patients also receive less pain relief in emergency rooms, according to a that listed implicit bias as a factor.

“Racism isn’t just a figment of people’s imagination or an attitudinal challenge,” Powell said. “It’s actually one that’s rooted in an unfortunate reality, and that’s that Black folk don’t always get equal treatment and equal quality care.”

conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service in which Black men — unbeknownst to them — were observed for untreated syphilis for decades.

Horrific abuses, from slavery to present day, fill books like “Medical Apartheid” by Harriet A. Washington and “Bones in the Basement” by Robert Blakely and Judith M. Harrington.

Powell worries even today about how “well-intentioned” providers in the current pandemic may be making decisions based on implicit bias, such as where to allocate a ventilator or other lifesaving medical resources.

While there’s no study to back up this concern, Olayiwola attests that not all providers are as committed as OSU’s president to the belief that racism is a health crisis.

“I wish I could say that that these physicians feel that’s a problem, but I’m confident that that’s not true,” Olayiwola said.

Recently, OSU’s department of family medicine, which she chairs, hosted an open dialogue where several doctors expressed that they remained unconvinced of this connection.

体育投注网址 to demand the removal of police — who patrol the public schools — in favor of funding college counselors, mental health services, nurses, and more programs.

体育投注网址This could be just the beginning of the conversation in creating an anti-racist school environment.

provides a wide range of essential resources in the Denver area. It connects individuals and families with general services like food and clothing, parental support, employment, and transportation, as well as education programs in parenting, aging, health insurance literacy, and nutrition.

体育投注网址These groups need committed leaders, volunteers, and resources. When joined as CEO and executive director nearly 5 years ago, she expanded the organization’s scope to become a family resource center.

“The goal was, how can we start earlier in the life span so that we’re not managing diseases but starting to prevent them altogether?” Johnson said. “Having changed our model, we really are working to help people have better access to all the social determinants.”

Local groups also have the ability to convey the Black community’s needs to positions of political power.

A social movement maintained by the center, , surveys Black Denver-area residents on issues related to health that are shared with policymakers.

Recently, the group was able to collect more than 500 responses about COVID-19 from Black residents after the state failed to collect many responses from Black people on its own — invaluable data that spotlighted the crisis in this community and will help address it.

“You’ve got to be flexible,” Johnson advised other groups looking to serve communities of color.

COVID-19, for example, spurred the center to “pivot” suddenly in its services. It began distributing personal protective equipment as well as funds to help people pay food and rent.

体育投注网址“We were the only ones that were doing it for the African American community in Denver,” Johnson said with incredulity. “I’m glad that we were there. We’re still raising more, but we got way more requests than we had the ability to handle.”

体育投注网址, can make a big difference.

Beyond donating, contact an organization to see what volunteer support is needed.

体育投注网址“Reach out, but don’t reach out with assumption that you know what’s needed. Just reach out and ask how you can be of service,” Johnson advised.

6. Support the rise of people of color to positions of power

体育投注网址This could mean voting for them, engaging in mentorship opportunities, or giving up a seat at the table.

7. Remember that this is a fight that every person shares, regardless of race

体育投注网址“My liberation is bound up in yours. If I’m not free, you’re not free,” Powell said. “If there’s a racial injustice I’m experiencing, then we’re all living in a racially unjust world.”

8. Relax — especially if you’re a person of color

体育投注网址“Breathe, baby, breathe. I would say to everyone, because this is heavy,” Powell said.

9. Find your ‘protest practice’

Not everyone will be able to attend in-person protests and demonstrations, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

“There’s many paths to the revolution,” Powell said. Hers is scholarship; for others, it might be writing, giving, or having those tough conversations.

10. Give love to the kids

“We owe it to them to ensure that, while we’re fighting the unnecessary fights, that we are pouring love back into our children and reminding them they matter, that their lives matter, their words matter, their existence matter,” Powell said.

“In many ways, without them, the future of our nation will be compromised. So we have to hold space for our children as we are holding space for our own pain, anger, and grief,” she said.