Racism is a Public Health Issue

Los Angeles Clippers logo (1984–2010)

Los Angeles Clippers logo (1984–2010) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now, unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware that the NBA Commissioner announced that in addition to a lifetime ban from any business with the Los Angeles Clippers and $2.5 million fine, he is pushing to force current owner, Donald Sterling, to sell the team over his racist remarks.

When the news broke a few weeks ago, besides thinking that it was incredulous that Donald Sterling actually believes that his comments were not racist, the other immediate thought that crossed my mind was:

I feel sorry for the L.A. Clippers team who have to feign business as usual and go to work knowing that the world now knows how their employer regards them. 

I am sure that when the Clippers played the next game, the stress of having the spotlight on them for such a negative reason was not only disheartening but also affected how they were able to perform.  To me, it is no coincidence that they lost the game that they played just a day after the Sterling recording surfaced and won the game that they played just hours after the NBA Commissioner ousted Donald Sterling – the source of their stress.

Why am I mentioning Donald Sterling’s racism in the context of a blog dedicated to promoting health equity?

Because, racism is a public health issue.

In the article “Why Racism is a Public Health Issue,” author Tara Culp-Ressler refers to research data and studies that show that African-American teens who experience racial discrimination in adolescence were more likely to have higher levels of blood pressure, a higher body mass index, and higher levels of stress-related hormones once they turned twenty.

Stress alone is harmful because it breaks down the body, but stress caused by discrimination disproportionately affects minorities and often pushes individuals to respond in unhealthy ways. The psychological toll that racism takes on adults has also been well-documented.

Nancy Krieger, a social epidemiologist, is among a growing number of public health scholars that are adding to the literature on how racial discrimination raises the risk of many emotional, physical, and mental problems.  She coined the term embodied inequality to explain this reality.

Racial bias exacerbates disparities in access to health care.

Two years ago, a study  found that about two-thirds of primary care doctors harbor biases toward their African-American patients, leading those doctors to spend less time with their African-American patients and involve them less in medical decisions.  This creates a situation in which African-Americans will shy away from seeking treatment that they need.  Coupled with the fact that disparities in access to preventive health care continues to be a major problem in communities of color, racial bias towards minorities will further create this divide.

I hope that it is now clear that racism has plenty to do with health and wellness.  It increases health disparities and decreases the well-being of those who are discriminated against due to the biases of others.

What can we do individually and as a society to address racism and discrimination and ensure that neither are negatively correlated with health and wellness?

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Adiyah Ali

I have over 10 years of experience in grassroots and community organizing, facilitation and training, communications and outreach, issue advocacy and policy development, and have a proven track record in advancing social and economic justice campaigns in support of marginalized and disadvantaged populations.As a Project Specialist with Campaign Consultation, Inc. I provide communications and content development support for national service clients such as the Social Innovation Fund and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. Read more.