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The health and well-being implications of racial trauma are complex, well-documented, and can be serious.

Explains that for marginalized groups such as blacks and other BIPOC communities, constant discrimination and racism becomes a form of chronic stress. Jessica Jackson PhD, a Houston-based public speaker, researcher, and licensed psychologist in private practice. (A lot of research work shows this, and also that the health consequences of racism and discrimination can be passed down from generation to generation.)

Research suggests that higher allostatic load—wear and tear on the body caused by chronic stress—may explain some of the differences in mortality between blacks and whites in the United States. study published in 2012 Journal of the National Medical Association. The researchers reviewed data from the National Health and Nutrition Study and generated allostatic load scores for participants based on metabolic, cardiovascular, and inflammatory measures (such as blood pressure, blood hemoglobin, and cholesterol). After adjusting for age and clinical conditions, socioeconomic status variables, and health behaviors, the higher allostatic load among blacks partly explains the higher mortality rate.

Data from Jackson Heart Study (an ongoing study begun in 2000 with more than 5,000 African Americans to better understand differences in cardiovascular disease) found that higher levels of perceived discrimination among African Americans in the United States is associated with poor health behaviorsuch as less sleep and smoking, as well as worse health effects such as higher incidence of obesity.

Part of what makes racial trauma so insidious, according to Smith Lee, is that many of the symptoms stem from a fear of similar trauma happening again. “There is a fear not only of how a person of color or an isolated event might be treated, but that their safety is at stake and that it could happen again,” she explains.

When you’re always alert mentally and emotionally, it creates a physiological response to stress—cortisol is released, she explains. It’s normal and great if it happens from time to time in response to a stressor you need to deal with. But if it happens consistently, it can lead to all sorts of damage to the body and contribute to anxiety, heart disease, depression, and psychological or cognitive impairment.

Angela Neal-Barnett, PhDprofessor and director of the African American Anxiety Research Program in the Department of Psychology at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, adds that some people exposed to racism and racial trauma or stress for a long time may experience symptoms similar to PTSD.

According to a review on the topic published in 2019 in the journal American psychologistthese symptoms may include, for example:

  • Hypervigilance
  • Depression
  • Avoidance
  • suspicion
  • chronic stress
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, heart palpitations, and others

Also a problem is the fact that the painful consequences of racism begin to accumulate from an early age. BUT review of 121 studies published in the journal Social Sciences and Medicine found that racial discrimination can lead to adverse emotional, psychological, and behavioral outcomes, such as extreme paranoia, hypervigilance, and withdrawal, in young adults as young as 12 years of age.

And it is worth noting that the intersection of multiple marginalized identities can exacerbate the effects of racial trauma. BUT research published in American psychologist in 2019for example, analyzed data explaining how the combination of nativism, racism, sexism, and anti-immigration policies together contribute to a unique type of ethno-racial trauma for Hispanics and communities.

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