Racism bad for health St. Lawrence Minority Health Project researcher says
Friday, March 22, 2013 - 9:29 am

To the Editor:

We wanted to take this opportunity to inform you about health disparities, how racism affects these health disparities and what we, as a community can do to help them. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, health disparities are unfair, unjust, and avoidable differences in disease, illness, or injury.

Health disparities are avoidable because they are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations, or by race/ethnicity, gender, education or income, disability, geographic location (e.g., rural or urban), or sexual orientation and are typically the result of discrimination. In the United States, racial/ethnic minorities, especially African Americans, suffer disproportionately from premature morbidity and mortality when compared to Caucasians.

Life expectancy, for example, is 15 years less for an African American male compared to a White female and African American women, although not diagnosed as often, have the highest rates of death from breast cancer. There are many other examples of these avoidable disparities, but racism is one reason they exist.

Racism causes chronic stress. Many studies find that long-term exposure to chronic stress from racial discrimination results in a weakened immune system.

As such, African Americans who’ve been discriminated against are at higher risk for health problems such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, restless sleep, exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.

Racism can also impact the opportunities racial/ethnic minorities have in terms of employment, housing, and health care. Ways that we can help eliminate these health disparities are to intervene to first help eliminate the acts of racism and discrimination.

One of the best ways decrease racism and discrimination is to be an active bystander. A bystander is someone who witnesses a racist incident.

An active bystander is someone who takes responsibility and intervenes or helps stop a racist incident from occurring or intervenes to help.

To be an active bystander, one must be able to identify racism and be willing to speak up about it.

Active bystanders approach situations calmly and explain why it is wrong and how it affects people. When we take responsibility by intervening, we send the message that racism isn’t ok in our community.

For more information please visit St. Lawrence County Minority Health Project at https://sites.google.com/site/slcmhp/home.

Asia Little, Research Assistant

Kelly Bonnar, Director, Potsdam