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In addition to the COVID pandemic, racism remains a public health crisis. This time, a study involving the brains of Black women across the country found that racism increased the fight-or-flight response, which can lead to long-term health issues.
A study of 55 Black women found that the trauma response to incidents of racism evoked a stronger response than to other traumatic events. These responses can threaten both physical and emotional health.
Meanwhile, Black Americans continue to face physical health disparities, including higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. However, this study is the first to link incidents of racism with a brain response.
First of its kind study links racism to future health issues
According to the authors of the study, “Our research suggests that racism has a trauma-like effect on Black women’s health; being regularly attuned to the threat of racism can tax important body-regulation tools and worsen brain health. Other trauma research shows that this kind of continuous response to threat can increase the risk of mental health disorders and additional future brain health problems.”
The study is the first of its kind to demonstrate the effects of racism as a form of trauma. Knowing the effects of racism on Black women’s health can inform further research on how to address structural racism as a public health crisis.
LaToya Smith, a Tulsa nurse, says “Toxic stress from racism has plagued black women for hundreds of years, leading to poor health outcomes, including but not limited to, obesity and heart disease. There must be a concerted effort to not only improve health outcomes for black women but also to improve access to care.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Bruce Dart, the Director of the Tulsa Health Department, noted “Research shows a history of individual and structural racism denies opportunity to people of color. If as a society we don’t focus on structural racism we will never achieve health equity in this country.”