Racism has very real health consequences, and not just for the people targeted by it. It turns out even racists pay a price for their intolerance.
A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found that all people – regardless of race – living in communities with high levels of racial prejudice were more likely to die young than people living in more tolerant places. And the higher mortality wasn’t just attributable to violence or poverty.
“Racial prejudice affects community health significantly even after controlling for individual- and community-level socioeconomic status, such as poverty, level of education, and racial composition,” study author YeonJin Lee of the University of Pennsylvania, told Healthline.
The study doesn’t prove that racial prejudice causes premature death. But researchers suggest that racism can weaken a community’s social resources or social capital. For example, racial tensions may limit a community’s ability to come together and advocate for policies and services that promote health.
“Low levels of prejudice are associated with greater trust and diminished threat at the neighborhood level,” Lee said, “[while] high levels of prejudice likely discourage residents from developing social capital with their neighbors, given reduced levels of trust and mutual reciprocity.
Other research has found that when prejudice people interact with members of other ethnic groups, the level of the stress hormone cortisol rises in their blood. Cortisol is part of the body’s “flight or fight” response to perceived threats.
“Harboring racist feelings in a multicultural society causes daily stress,” Elizabeth Page-Gould, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, wrote in an essay for the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, California. “This kind of stress can lead to chronic problems like cancer, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.”
Social Attitudes Connect to Health
With the country embroiled in public debate about race, religion, and immigration, the data suggests our current state of social turmoil literally could be killing us. Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination has dominated media coverage, in large part because of the anti-immigrant rhetoric.
After the mass shooting in San Bernardino on December 2 by a couple reportedly loyal to Islamic extremists, Trump proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States. Trump’s critics say this xenophobic attitude, like his derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants, creates an atmosphere of hatred and bigotry.
But it does seem to be a popular proposal, at least in some quarters. A Bloomberg Politics poll earlier this week found that almost two-thirds of likely Republican primary voters were in favor of Trump’s Muslim ban.
“We believe these numbers are made up of some people who are truly expressing religious bigotry and others who are fearful about terrorism and are willing to do anything they think might make us safer,” pollster Doug Usher said.