There are neighborhoods in Baltimore in which the life expectancy is 19 years less than other neighborhoods in the same city. Residents of the Downtown/Seaton Hill neighborhood have a life expectancy lower than 229 other nations, exceeded only by Yemen. According to the Washington Post, 15 neighborhoods in Baltimore have a lower life expectancy than North Korea.
And while those figures represent some of the most dramatic disparities in the life expectancy of black Americans as opposed to whites, a recent study of the health impacts of racism in America reveals that racist attitudes may cause up to 30,000 early deaths every year.
The study, Association between an Internet-Based Measure of Area Racism and Black Mortality, has just been published in PLOS ONE and has mapped out the most racist areas in the United States. As illustrated above, they are mostly located in the rural Northeast and down along the Appalachian Mountains into the South. How they did it and what it may mean are below the fold.
We already know about the racism that led to Jim Crow, the KKK, and lynchings. We also know about the racism that has become embedded in our justice system, from cops who kill, to prosecutors who ensure that blacks receive longer prison terms than do whites. We know that those sentencing disparities lead to greater disenfranchisement of blacks.
We think we know how racism has injured and killed black Americans. But do we really? There are the obvious cases, like Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, but what about the silent killers? The hypertension and the chronic medical conditions that lead so many more blacks to an early grave than they do whites. Could racist attitudes lead to 30,000 early deaths every year?
According to the authors of the study, current research points to a variety of causes for the disparities in health between white and black Americans, many of which can be traced to racial segregation. Many blacks are restricted to high-crime neighborhoods that are lacking in outdoor recreational areas, access to healthy foods, and decent health care. Discrimination in employment leads to lower wages that further impact the ability to enjoy healthy food, exercise, and recreation.
The authors also point out that:
... racial discrimination may also directly impact health by engaging psychobiological mechanisms induced in the stress response
In other words, stress, especially chronic stress, is bad for your health. This isn't really news. Experiences of racial discrimination are often accompanied by a sense of powerlessness, of anxiety, and of anger. These stressors, especially over a lifetime, can lead to negative health impacts. Jon Stewart did not know how right he was when he said, "If racism is something you're sick of hearing about, imagine how exhausting it must be living it every day."
As a source of chronic psychosocial stress, repeated racism may result in a heightened pro-inflammatory state that can have particularly detrimental consequences for the etiology and progression of cardiovascular and other immune disorders. Studies on discrimination have found evidence for adverse consequences for hypertension, atherosclerosis, and their inflammatory mediators. A recent study found that racism-related factors may also be associated with accelerated aging at the cellular level.
Past studies have had problems quantifying racism. They can look at localized institutional racism via housing and employment, or they can rely on self-reported incidents of racism. Of course, self-reported attitudes are difficult to verify and are subject to self-censorship, especially in regard to micro-aggressions and racism without a clear perpetrator, and institutional studies don't actually reflect racist attitudes as much as their results.
The authors of this study have turned to internet searches using the "N-word" for help in finding areas of racist attitudes in America.
This measure, calculated based on Internet search queries containing the “N-word”, was strongly associated with the differential in 2008 votes for Barack Obama, the Black Democratic presidential candidate, vs. 2004 votes for John Kerry, the White Democratic presidential candidate.
The study authors used the designated market areas (DMA) as defined by the Nielsen Media Research. Residents within these DMAs generally receive their information from common television and/or radio broadcasts and newspapers, providing similar messages that influence racial attitudes. The authors make clear that not all searches for the "N-word" are due to racial bias and that not all residents in a DMA share racist attitudes, but the volume of the available data provides a high signal-to-noise ratio.
Using this information to find areas in which racism is alive and well, they then looked at black mortality rates using data from 2004–2009, collated by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). They examined four leading causes of death among blacks: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Unsurprisingly, they found a significant association between the racism indicated by the internet searches and an increase in black mortality.
Results from our study indicate that living in an area characterized by a one standard deviation greater proportion of racist Google searches is associated with an 8.2% increase in the all-cause mortality rate among Blacks. This effect estimate amounts to over 30,000 deaths among Blacks annually nationwide.
These findings indicate that area racism, as indexed by the proportion of Google searches containing the “N-word”, is significantly associated with not only the all-cause Black mortality rate, but also Black-White disparities in mortality.
Racism doesn't just kill with a bullet to the back, it also kills by a thousand cuts, silently and mostly unnoticed.
Was it only a year ago that Ta-Nehisi Coates made the Case for Reparations? Hell, how about we stop killing black Americans first, and then discuss a way to repay them for the massive wrongs that have been done.
This article was first published at Daily Kos.