Realizing The Dream: Racial Discrimination And Your Health

Martin Luther King Jr.What are the health affects of racism?

Thousands of people gathered on the National Mall Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington, listening as political and civil rights leaders reflected on the legacy of racial progress over the last half-century and urged Americans to press forward in pursuit of King’s dream of equality.

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People of color have endured stress on various levels including that of judgement and impairment by others. As time has passed, the level of perceived equality in a societal structure has too leveled itself out to an extent. However, there are instances where psychosocial stressors, like racism, can still be seen in every day situations.

Racism is one societal stressor that not only plays a negative role in individuals, but also in society and community as a whole. This type of stress can affect behavioral and mental health.

According to the United Nations, racism is defined as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

A Social Construct 

It has been said repeatedly that race is a social construct and is a mechanism in which unequal distributions of risks and opportunities are created. It is an ideal that is created through our race-conscious society on nothing but the physicality of other people. But however imaginary this construct is, it has a lasting affect on people’s feelings and emotions which can eventually lead to a difference in physical health.

Internalizing this deep type of psychosocial stressor has been studied and found to have a lasting impact on multiple groups of color within the United States.

Based on research and studies, not to mention real-life experiences, there are multiple ways that racism can affect health. According to a study done by the National Institute of Health, racism creates discrepancies in socioeconomic status which can then result in differential health outcomes; impact the quality in which people receive health care and adversely affect psychological and physiological functioning.

In Native American communities as well as Black communities, discrimination has lead to the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. In other communities of color, the problem with internalizing racial discrimination has lead to behavioral conditions linked to anger and conduct problems. Additionally, it was found that discrimination has also lead to poorer self-esteem and higher levels of hopelessness.

Shaking It Off

Like any other type of stress, it is important to de-stress and relieve oneself of the anxiety that comes with racial comments from outside individuals.  However many studies that have been conducted, coping mechanisms for these experiences have not been professionally concluded.

As a community, though, learning from 11-year-old De La Cruz is a place to start. Many ignorant comments are made based on outside judgments. The fact that this Mariachi singer could quite literally shake it off and say that it didn’t matter what other people thought of him is a step in the right direction.

1. Know your worth. Self-esteem is the number one tool you need to strengthen to fight internalization of racial discrimination. Tell yourself why you’re special and important to those around you.

2. Know where you come from.  The more you know about who you are and where you come from, the prouder you will become. Latinos have a long history in the United States. Get to know about it and don’t let it anger you. Let it make you proud.

3. Know who loves you. No one can make you feel less than, besides yourself. These words have been uttered multiple times in various ways, but it’s true. Keep yourself surrounded by those who will make you feel better, who love you and support you. Find a support system and stick to it.

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