African Americans

Racism may harm your health

RICE (US) — A new study finds 18 percent of blacks and 4 percent of whites report emotional and/or physical distress due to racial discrimination.

“Discriminatory behavior very well may be a ‘missing link’ in the analysis of racial and ethnic health disparities,” Rice University sociologist Jenifer Bratter says. “It’s important to acknowledge and study its impact on long-term health.

Unlike most of the research on this topic, Bratter and co-author and sociologist Bridget Gorman’s study examines the health risks of discrimination among both whites and blacks, as opposed to just blacks.


Their analysis was based on data from the 2004 wave of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing collaborative project between U.S. states and territories and the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This racially comparative focus is important because we examine whether discrimination is equally harmful to the health status of black and white adults—or whether experiencing discrimination is disproportionately harmful to either black or white adults,” Gorman says.

“For example, since, on average, black adults typically experience more health risks in their social and personal environment than white adults (including higher poverty and lower-quality medical insurance), they may be especially vulnerable to negative health effects as a result of racial discrimination.”

A greater number of blacks report poor health due to discrimination, and the study did find that black-white disparities in health are shaped in part by the differential exposure of blacks to the harmful effects of discrimination.

However, Bratter and Gorman also show that while perceiving discrimination exacerbates some of the economic-based health risks more typically experienced by black adults, patterns differ for white adults.

Regardless of social-class position, white adults who perceive unfair treatment relative to other racial groups in either workplace or health care settings report poorer health.

“A relatively small proportion of white adults report unfair treatment that is race-based, but those who do say their health status is harmed more than blacks who report the same experiences,” Gorman says.

Both Bratter and Gorman hope that their research, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, will raise awareness about the impact racial discrimination has on health and wellness.

“Ultimately we hope that practitioners and researchers in the medical field recognize the dual contribution of social class and interpersonal treatment in shaping health outcomes among persons of all racial populations,” Bratter says.

More news from Rice University:

Related Articles