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Martin Luther King waving during the March on WashingtonWhat 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.

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