WASHINGTON, D.C. (NNPA) – The effects of living in a patriarchal, racist society measurably erode Black women’s physical and mental wellbeing, an emerging body of research finds.
Over time, this steady drip of double-discrimination can lead to higher maternal mortality and lower birth weight rates, hypertension and heart disease, aggressive cancers, and psychological issues, to name a few effects.
“Although the evidence is somewhat mixed, the consensus is that self-reported racial discrimination is associated with a variety of health outcomes—most prevalent being birth outcomes, cardio health concerns—also depression and psychological stress,” said Amani Nuru-Jeter, associate professor of public health at University of California.
Nuru-Jeter, an epidemiologist who has contributed research on these issues, adds that there are lab-based, literature-based, and anecdotal studies to show the link between discrimination and poor mental and physical health.
While discrimination touches most people at one time or another for varying reasons, Black women experience the double-whammy of racism and sexism—and even the triple burden of homophobia for gay, bisexual, or gender non-conforming Black women.
“In general, we know that African Americans report experiencing [racial] discrimination more than Whites. But with Black women, issues of gender come into play,” Nuru-Jeter says.
Women are much more likely than men to experience ‘network stress,’ she explained—when people close to them express their pains and frustrations, they feel that stress indirectly. Men, on the other hand, are more likely than women to only experience the stress that happens to them. This is likely due to the way boys and girls are raised to fit gender norms, with girls being steered toward empathetic nurturing, even at the expense of their own emotional and mental wellness.
Black women report an overwhelming sense of obligation to those around them, in addition to living at the intersection of societal racial discrimination, and gender discrimination even within their community. Nuru-Jeter says that this sense of obligation leaves little room for Black women to express and deal with the stress of everyday slights against their worth as people.
“One of the ways in which chronic discrimination gets into the body and becomes anxiety, depressive episodes, or low birth weights, is in the ways we cope,” Nuru-Jeter said. “We know from psychological [research] that suppressing emotions is bad for your health.”
When Black women do seek acknowledgement and fair resolutions regarding the racist and sexist jabs they meet, they often run into roadblocks.
“People don’t want to risk retaliation. The retaliation is a big deal. People risk their jobs, they risk losing their educational status, there’s retaliation that comes in the form of harassment. So there’s a lot at stake,” said Graves. “What ends up happening is, a lot of people never come forward at all. These are the stressors of discrimination that people end up holding on to.”
To prevent the slow damage of these stressors, Graves says people who are experiencing discrimination should document what happens to them, and tell others (even friends) about incidents when they happen. This documentation and multiple sources can corroborate patterns and serve as evidence to have issues properly addressed.
Nuru-Jeter advocates practicing self-care as the primary priority, and seeking a listening ear when needed.