- Today the stress, physical illnesses, and other injuries associated with racism constitute a serious public health problem.
"The stress does make a difference," said a black engineer in a focus group in a southeastern city. "I think it probably takes five years off your life, to tell you the truth, if you let it get to you." The major and minor slights of racism can accumulate to a very negative health impact.
In the last two years I and my colleagues have conducted focus groups on discrimination's costs with African Americans in California, Michigan, and Florida. A common report from these African Americans is that bottling up stress and rage stemming from discrimination leads, from their considered perspective, to such health problems as stomach problems, chest pains, hypertension, and depression.
But, lest anyone latch onto the suggestion that it is all a matter of perception or hyper-sensitivity, it is not just us. The study goes on to state:
- White racism has a negative impact on many people of color. Our findings on African Americans parallel those in studies of Latinos in several cities. Significantly, a Latino professor at UF recently told me, "I have done everything good academicians do. I have published quantities of quality research, have become a great teacher, been a good citizen. And, still, white colleagues not even close to my record make thousands of dollars more than I do. Knowing that whatever I do will earn no significant rewards demoralizes me. My biweekly paycheck is the insult responsible for my high blood pressure."
In recent years there has been much public discussion among whites, including policymakers and influential scholars, of a supposedly "declining significance of race" and of the "end of racism." Our data and recent revelations about racial environments at major companies like Texaco show that racial discrimination targeting African Americans, as well as other people of color, is commonplace in all types of workplaces. The costs of discrimination for Americans of color are so serious as to constitute one of this nation's major public health problems.