This has been a great week for the relationship between science and African-Americans. We have come pretty far from the days when we were used as guinea pigs in horrible experiments, thus alienating many in our community for generations from the habit of regular health care out of a fear for our lives. Scientists are now becoming so self-aware, they are now miraculously able to study racism and its effects in a manner that will be reported on jovially by the mainstream press. This week has featured an unscientifically guessed at record of three such studies being reported on in one week.
Post-racial America, rejoice!
Well, not so fast. According to these recent findings, we are not quite out of the woods yet when it comes to racial discrimination, and the impact it has on people’s lives, particularly the lives of African-Americans. Yes, the mainstream population could have just listened to black leaders and citizens from the dawn of our nation’s birth when we stated pretty clearly that we were being treated inhumanely and didn’t like it. But no matter. The past is over, and now the scientific community is finding objectively validated proof that the complaints blacks have been marching about and getting jailed over for decades have some bearing on reality. Here it is:
Most of us recognize that black-white disparities in wealth and employment stem in large part from generational, institutional racism. Well, apparently, there was a recent study on just that. On Monday, ABC News reported that:
Deciding whom we will trust, especially with our money, may be shaped more by unconscious racial biases than many of us would like to admit, according to new research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We strive as a culture to not let race bias be a significant factor in the way we choose to do things and on an individual level, we all assume that our beliefs reflect our actions, but we have to be aware of the fact that this won’t always be the case,” says Elizabeth Phelps, a psychologist at New York University who was a co-author of the study.
So basically, the scientists conducting this study found that people use race as a factor to decide who they will trust and give money to – and that some white people don’t want to give their money to blacks (although only unconsciously). And they got paid to discover this. But they deserve the money. I never thought I would see a black president in my lifetime, and I never thought that I would see our mainstream American community admit to the fact that unconscious racism is in fact a real thing. Yes, if folks had just listened to us, our great nation might have been spared a few bloody centuries of “unconsciously” motivated race oppression as part of its history, but I digress. Let bygones, be bygones. Isn’t that what they say? Another truism: “It’s better late than never.” Especially when it comes to revising racist attitudes.
Speaking of racist attitudes, scientists have taken a particular interest in the birthers’ specific brand of unconscious racism. In fact, a specific scientist, Eric Hehman of the University of Delaware, published findings about how Obama’s blackness has an inverse effect on his perceived level of “Americanness” for many whites. He goes on to write that “The influence of racial prejudice in contemporary U.S. society is typically manifested in subtle, indirect forms of bias. Due to prevailing norms of equality, most Whites attempt to avoid appearing biased in their evaluations of Blacks, in part because of a genuine desire to live up to their egalitarian standards, but also because of concern regarding social censure.”
Now, we could have told “Whites” that a long, long time ago, but most didn’t want to listen. We’re not mad, though. In fact, we are just glad that this truth is finally coming to light through the rigid, empirical testing of science, which is finally smiling on black people as friend instead of scowling at us as test subject, scalpel in hand. We love you, science, even though you have been a little mean. Where would we be without you? Our medical treatments, surgical procedures and medicines all come down to us through a system of testing that proves their effectiveness without a doubt. Except when it comes to puzzling health issues, like heart disease, which plagues the black community at levels that far exceed the impact of this virulent illness on whites.
But today, instead of just scratching their collective head and shrugging like they used to do at our problems, the scientific community is starting to look into our specific heart disease scenario for some answers, while admitting what they don’t know, and that their ignorance is due in part to our new enemy (or old one, if you are black), unconscious racism.
In findings recently reported on by Science Daily, the lower level of vitamin D produced by darker skins has been found to be a very important factor in blacks’ higher levels of lethal heart disease. Lead author of the study, Kevin Fiscella, M.D., stated that “black-white differences in blood pressure represent thousands of excess deaths due to heart disease and stroke among blacks,” and that while adequate vitamin D intake is important, “It is likely that other factors beyond vitamin D, such as psychological stress, medication adherence, and discrimination could contribute to this disparity.”
Psychological stress… Psychological stress… What could cause psychological stress… Perhaps telling the community you have been a part of for 400 years that it is crushing your neck under its boot, while being ignored? Until the tendency for your nation to routinely engage in ruthless oppression becomes “unconscious”? Leading the doctors in your community to ignore your needs, and regard you more as a test subject than patient? Causing a trend in a lack of “medical adherence” among blacks, who are scared to go to the doctor or can’t get equal access to decent treatment?
Well, at least the good doctor who authored this last study admits that “discrimination could contribute” (emphasis mine) to the unequal levels of medical care that blacks receive, caused by unconscious racism of course. This probably has an effect on the higher rate of heart disease in our community, according to him. Of course, studies showing how medical discrimination impacts blacks’ health already exist, but we can’t expect one man to know everything.
This commentary might sound a tad cynical, but in reality it is a positive assessment of the tiny baby steps American society is taking towards recognizing the things we have been screaming, crying and raging about for centuries. They always say that you should affirm a step in the right direction no matter how small, if you want to encourage further growth and make those changes permanent. And that’s what I aim to do. Three reports on studies admitting racism is real in one week?! Gold star, American science! Now if only you people could come up with a pill for that unconscious racism, we’d be set.
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