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Racism Is Making Us Sick…Literally!

Let’s Re-evaluate Physical Repercussions of Racism this Black History Month.

By Christine-Fatoumatta Manneh

Black and white picture of a protest, several people are holding their hands up in fists.
Image courtesy of Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Before I begin, I’ve accepted that I go to a predominantly white institution meaning many of my peers won’t have experienced racism and some don’t even know what’s racist- A comment, joke or action doesn’t need to be intentionally hurtful for it to be racism.

Often what’s needed is clear conversations about boundaries to observe with your friends of colour. Racist is a word that produces a lot of defensive reactions from people, however, calling yourself and others out on racist behaviours, no matter how subconscious they are, is essential to improving everyone's quality of life. So we should not shy away from the phrase, but instead tell it as it is.

For example; racist slang is racist. No if, ands or buts. Just because it is casual language does not mean the effect will be equally casual. Using language that reinforces racial stereotypes or beliefs affects your friends of colour in huge ways. (This even means Singing/rapping/lip-syncing ‘the N word’ is Racist.)

Stereotyping is Racist- Regardless of individual characteristics, stereotyping often includes assigning the same traits to every member of a group. It mainly rests on false generalisations, insufficient knowledge, and/or misunderstandings. Stereotypes typically presume negative traits about a group. Even individuals who have good intentions and are not overtly biased might generalise (That’s still racist!).

Another behaviour that often flies under people's radar is asking a BAME (Black, Aisian and minority ethnic) person if they know another BAME person based on race. This is Racist.

The refusal to acknowledge that humans are unique individuals who are not tied to every member of their racialized group is a key component of dehumanisation.

It is discriminatory to presume that everyone who belongs to a racialized group knows one another -or looks alike. When making comments on who someone looks like or could know, we should be careful to avoid making racist assumptions and instead consider if we are expressing a sincere observation based on what is known to be plausible.

Why “Reverse Racism” doesn’t exist:

With the discussions of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘All Lives Matter’ being incredibly topical at the minute I feel it is necessary to explain why ‘All Lives Matter’ is a racist ideology.

Those who use All Lives Matter are misinterpreting the BLM movement as insisting that black lives, which are in much more danger than white lives, should be held above the others.

This is not the case, what we aim to achieve is the same value for our lives as all others which currently does not exist. This diminishes the movement and recenters white lives, hence erasing black voices. Which is, you guessed it… it’s racist.

This brings us onto the concept of ‘reverse racism’ which is a trigger phrase often used to bring the focus back onto white people. Today and in the past, white people have always sided with the powerful rather than the powerless. Therefore, for as long as we continue to live in a culture that upholds white supremacy, “reverse racism” is not possible. If you believe “reverse racism” is possible you’re rejecting your privilege in all its forms and you are saying that working to better the lives of ethnic minorities is "racist" towards white people- which makes no sense as a BAME person can’t be racist to a white person.

All of these behaviours and more result in some very insidious consequences for BAME people.

A stressful situation, like a verbal attack motivated by racism, includes more than just abstract feelings; your body also gets geared up for battle.

Along with an increase in heart rate, your blood pressure also rises (chronically, this increases your risk of heart disease and stroke). Your lower limbs receive a blood flow redirection that makes moving much easier. Additionally, chemicals like adrenaline and norepinephrine are overflowing in your body (problems with high noradrenaline are linked to PTSD and substance abuse), giving you instant access to a lot of energy that is essential for either fighting or escaping. These systems have developed to be active for a brief period before being reset to their default state after the threat has gone. When stress becomes persistent, issues arise- In addition to altering the nervous system, the immune system, the danger response of the cells, and gene function, racist trauma affects both physiological and mental well-being. In part, it is because of our body's instinctive survival mode that symptoms and disease may become a result. This is problematic for black people -who face racial bias and prejudice almost daily! Toxic chronic stress can cause diseases and a wide range of mental and physical health problems.

But this extends further than just personal reactions to racism. There is also an inclination to believe that biological characteristics are to blame for ethnic inequalities in illness risk levels. The arrogant assumption that race is primarily a biological reality rather than a social reality with biological repercussions has contributed to this misconception throughout history. For instance, the startling finding that black British women are five times as likely than white British women to die during pregnancy rose around the same time studies showed minorities run the risk of getting worse medical treatment. Even when we think or hope that discrimination doesn't exist in the medical profession, it does.

Racism is more likely to cause psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. In comparison to those whose lives have not been undervalued, people of colour and all those whose lives have been marginalised by those in authority experience life differently. They encounter overt racism and prejudice much too frequently, which contributes to a heavier mental health cost than other people may endure. Racism generates trauma, making it a problem for mental health. People with major mental health disorders now tend to emphasise historical trauma as their cause. People of colour endure far more subtle traumas daily, including racial profiling, banks and credit companies refusing to lend to them or only doing so at higher interest rates, mass incarceration of their peers, school curricula that minimise or ignore their contributions to our shared history, and people avoiding them and their neighbourhoods out of ignorance and fear.

Everyone responds to racism differently, and its impacts can change dramatically based on a variety of variables, including personal resilience, prior experiences, and resource availability. However, the negative consequences of racism on health and well-being are well known, and it is crucial to address this problem to achieve health equity and raise everyone's standard of living.

Happy Black History Month!


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