How to kill people with daily discrimination

by Life Matters

Discrimination is a scourge, not only because it violates our human rights, not only because it prevents us from taking full advantage of the richness of diversity, but also because it has harmful consequences on health [1].

Even if we adopt a purely pragmatic point of view and set aside the ethical importance of fighting against discrimination, its impact on health has harmful consequences for society and for companies: reduced commitment, lower productivity, increased work accidents, etc.

What are the consequences of discrimination on health?

In 2015, a meta-analysis of 293 scientific studies [2] showed that discrimination has multiple negative consequences on the physiological and psychological health of victims of racism.

Among these consequences are:

- Adverse cardiovascular outcomes [3]

- Higher body mass index and obesity rates [4]

- Hypertension [5]

- More frequent high-risk behaviours [6]

- Increased alcohol consumption [7]

- Poor sleep [8]

- Depression [9]

Discrimination induces stress on the body and fosters preclinical signs. These make the people affected more vulnerable to disease. In 2015, a research team [10] identified the following signs: increased allostatic load (stress accumulation), inflammation, shorter telomeres length (faster ageing), coronary arteries calcification, deregulation in cortisol production and greater oxidative stress.

The daily curse: anticipating discrimination

The negative impact of discrimination on health goes further. Regularly suffering from discrimination encourages its victims to internalize it. As a result, they show apprehension about situations in which discrimination might appear again. They become more vigilant, more anxious and constantly endure anticipatory stress. This stress accentuates and prolongs the negative effects of discrimination on health [11].

This apprehension about discrimination is associated with its own negative effects on physical and mental health:

- Arterial elasticity deterioration [12]

- Depressive symptoms [13]

- Sleep difficulties [14]

- Hypertension [15]

This damages seems to mainly result from stress, which itself comes from actual and anticipated discrimination. Moreover, the deterioration of health increases with the amount of stress. This central role of stress persists even with taking into account the socio-economic disparities between people from minorities and majorities [16].

Suffer through contamination: indirect discrimination

But the problem goes even further. Learning that people in our community are discriminated against also has an impact on our health [17]. For example, seeing George Floyd dying has an impact on the health of the entire African-American community, and Black people in general.

In 2018, a review of the scientific literature on this topic [18] highlights this phenomenon concerning children. By seeing their parents enduring discrimination, children’s health is also impaired. In addition, there are consequences in terms of anxiety, depressive symptoms, substance use, self-esteem, etc.

Similarly, a US quasi-experimental study [19] has shown that exposure to homicides of unarmed African-Americans (on television, on Internet, etc.) leads to a reduction in mental health among African-American participants. This effect increased during the first two months after exposure.

Conclusion

By building a social and work environment that promotes tolerance and benevolence, we inhibit the stress generated by actual and anticipated discrimination. This helps to protect the physiological and psychological health of minority members.

Moreover, because people are less stressed, they can fully contribute to societal development and companies’ performance. By fighting discrimination, we contribute to unleash the full potential of diversity for global progress.

References

1. Williams, D. R., Lawrence, J. A., & Davis, B. A. (2019). Racism and health: evidence and needed research. Annual review of public health, 40, 105–125.

2. Paradies, Y., Ben, J., Denson, N., Elias, A., Priest, N., Pieterse, A., … & Gee, G. (2015). Racism as a determinant of health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 10(9), e0138511.

3. Lewis, T. T., Williams, D. R., Tamene, M., & Clark, C. R. (2014). Self-reported experiences of discrimination and cardiovascular disease. Current cardiovascular risk reports, 8(1), 365.

4. Bernardo, C. D. O., Bastos, J. L., González‐Chica, D. A., Peres, M. A., & Paradies, Y. C. (2017). Interpersonal discrimination and markers of adiposity in longitudinal studies: A systematic review. Obesity reviews, 18(9), 1040–1049.

5. Dolezsar, C. M., McGrath, J. J., Herzig, A. J., & Miller, S. B. (2014). Perceived racial discrimination and hypertension: a comprehensive systematic review. Health Psychology, 33(1), 20.

6. Stock, M. L., Gibbons, F. X., Beekman, J. B., Williams, K. D., Richman, L. S., & Gerrard, M. (2018). Racial (vs. self) affirmation as a protective mechanism against the effects of racial exclusion on negative affect and substance use vulnerability among black young adults. Journal of behavioral medicine, 41(2), 195–207.

7. Gilbert, P. A., & Zemore, S. E. (2016). Discrimination and drinking: A systematic review of the evidence. Social Science & Medicine, 161, 178–194.

8. Slopen, N., Lewis, T. T., & Williams, D. R. (2016). Discrimination and sleep: a systematic review. Sleep medicine, 18, 88–95.

9. Hudson, D. L., Puterman, E., Bibbins-Domingo, K., Matthews, K. A., & Adler, N. E. (2013). Race, life course socioeconomic position, racial discrimination, depressive symptoms and self-rated health. Social Science & Medicine, 97, 7–14.

10. Lewis, T. T., Cogburn, C. D., & Williams, D. R. (2015). Self-reported experiences of discrimination and health: scientific advances, ongoing controversies, and emerging issues. Annual review of clinical psychology, 11, 407–440.

11. Brosschot, J. F., Gerin, W., & Thayer, J. F. (2006). The perseverative cognition hypothesis: A review of worry, prolonged stress-related physiological activation, and health. Journal of psychosomatic research, 60(2), 113–124.

12. Clark, R., Benkert, R. A., & Flack, J. M. (2006). Large arterial elasticity varies as a function of gender and racism-related vigilance in black youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39(4), 562–569.

13. LaVeist, T. A., Thorpe Jr, R. J., Pierre, G., Mance, G. A., & Williams, D. R. (2014). The relationships among vigilant coping style, race, and depression. Journal of Social Issues, 70(2), 241–255.

14. Hicken, M. T., Lee, H., Ailshire, J., Burgard, S. A., & Williams, D. R. (2013). “Every shut eye, ain’t sleep”: The role of racism-related vigilance in racial/ethnic disparities in sleep difficulty. Race and social problems, 5(2), 100–112.

15. Hicken, M. T., Lee, H., Morenoff, J., House, J. S., & Williams, D. R. (2014). Racial/ethnic disparities in hypertension prevalence: reconsidering the role of chronic stress. American journal of public health, 104(1), 117–123.

16. Sternthal, M. J., Slopen, N., & Williams, D. R. (2011). RACIAL DISPARITIES IN HEALTH: How Much Does Stress Really Matter? 1. Du Bois review: social science research on race, 8(1), 95.

17. Umaña-Taylor, A. J., Tynes, B. M., Toomey, R. B., Williams, D. R., & Mitchell, K. J. (2015). Latino adolescents’ perceived discrimination in online and offline settings: An examination of cultural risk and protective factors. Developmental psychology, 51(1), 87.

18. Heard-Garris, N. J., Cale, M., Camaj, L., Hamati, M. C., & Dominguez, T. P. (2018). Transmitting trauma: A systematic review of vicarious racism and child health. Social Science & Medicine, 199, 230–240.

19. Bor, J., Venkataramani, A. S., Williams, D. R., & Tsai, A. C. (2018). Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of black Americans: a population-based, quasi-experimental study. The Lancet, 392(10144), 302–310.

French PhD in social psychology ● Writing about inclusion, diversity and discriminations, in the light of social sciences.