African American History
02 May 2023
Racism and Health
The program that I attended was part of a series by the University of San Diego Humanities Center called “Baked In” and the one that I looked into specifically was called “Perspectives on Racism and Health.” This specific program was introduced by Fred Robinson PhD. who is part of the department of english here at USD. He introduced us to Jillian Tullis PhD. who would be leading the program, she is an associate professor in the department of communication studies at USD. Tullis focuses on health and quality of life so in this program she wanted to answer a few key topics like discrimination disparities in health, consequences of racism in a variety of contexts, and the history of environmental racism becoming a systemic problem. Tullis introduces us to her three colleagues that will be exploring this topic with their specialties. The first colleague is Dr. Drew Talley who integrates his specialty of education and applied conservation biology into his fundamental science questions about systemic racism and the environment. The second colleague is Dr. Fuller who is with the Han School of Nursing and Health Sciences and has worked as a pediatric nurse that focuses on socioeconomic disparities and those effects on child development. The third colleague is Dr. Kristopher Hall who is in the school of leadership and educational sciences and focuses on minority success in the counseling field. The “Perspectives on Racism and Health” reveals how the systemic racism of societal and/or environmental inequities affect the health and wellbeing of African Americans. This history of systemic racism in health is captured in three ways: systemic racism and the environment, socioeconomic status and its effect on child development and healthcare, and minority success in the counseling field.
To even understand how environmental racism affects minority health we must first understand its history, what it is, and how it came to be a systemic issue. Around the 1930’s zoning and redlining laws were put into place which caused minorities and communities of color to be displaced into the poor, concrete places of the big cities in the US. According to the textbook, Freedom On My Mind:
“The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) forbade mortgage loans in integrated areas, promoting the racist policy of redlining. This extremely discriminatory and widespread practice sustained the bank practice of approving mortgage loans only to blacks who lived in all-black neighborhoods. The FHA and HOLC likewise endorsed restrictive covenants, which promoted the practice of allowing whites to refuse to sell homes to blacks in white neighborhoods. Historically, redlining and restrictive covenants have seriously undermined black economic advancement by preventing blacks from building up equity in their homes and benefiting from gains in the real estate market that have allowed white homeowners to develop wealth,” (White, D. et al, 2021).
Not only were the zones near future greenhouse gas sources but they were already in bad living conditions. The living conditions in these zoning and redlined areas were overcrowded, they had drug epidemics, and mass unemployment. If you had concrete type fossil fuel things in your neighborhood (ex: wells) then you were at a high chance to be redlined. Redlining and zoning were not the only tactic used by the government and real estate companies, their close relative “blockbusting” was put into place. Explained by Rothstein, “Blockbusting was a scheme in which speculators bought properties in borderline black-white areas; rented or sold them to African American families at above-market prices; persuaded white families residing in these areas that their neighborhoods were turning into African American slums and that values would soon fall precipitously; and then purchased the panicked whites’ homes for less than their worth,” (Rothstein, R. et al, 2018). . These “speculators” even went as far as staging burglaries to convince the white people that their neighborhood was becoming unsafe and they needed to move. The last but certainly not final step in this historical process was what we call “white flight.” These new suburban cities had very cheap land and low taxes which took away the labor jobs from those in the big cities. This left those poor minority families in the big cities with an increased tax burden. So as the minority families went to the suburbs to buy homes they were left with very few options as housing prices inflated, so relocation to the suburbs was virtually impossible for the minorities. All of these practices led to African Americans being unable to gain the wealth that comes with owning a home, and remaining concentrated in urban areas. This leads to the inability for their descendants to inherit any wealth, own homes, or get as good of quality education as their white counterparts.
I now want to highlight the elements of the program because Dr. Drew Talley really elaborates on this idea of Environmental racism. He emphasizes that these health issues are due to what we call “legacy effects” which is when something is the result of what happened before. Back in the 1930’s (and today) environmental racism was one that related to proximity. People were okay with building toxic sites next to neighborhoods full of black and brown people because thats who the neighborhood was filled with they didn’t care. Dr. Talley said that if you overlay the redlining map from the 30s with the current temperatures of big urban areas and cities you would see a huge correlation between the redlined zones and the people struggling the most today with heat islands. We see this confirmed when Maher, T. (1998) said, “These results suggest a roughly parallel pattern of race and class discrimination in the site placement of toxic facilities. It is clear that for the most part, middle- and upper-income White communities are shielded by public and corporate policy from the worst hazardous by-products of modern industrial society. Counties with higher than average proportions of African Americans and Latinos in the population are significantly more likely than other counties to be home to highly polluting industries and toxic waste facilities.” Dr. Talley gave us the fact that black people are 75% more likely to live near industrial facilities and 50% more likely to live near a highway. Not only are these heat islands miserable but they are also over-policed, under-resourced, and underfunded. Nothing has changed. Now what we are seeing is how beneficial nature and the outdoors are to human health, it increases self-esteem, lowers depression and blood pressure, and it can increase your immune system. When people do not have access to public/national parks or even nature outside their home we start to see major negative impacts on their health. Two points of data that were given to us by Dr. Talley were that black kids get asthma at twice the rate than white kids and die at a rate that is almost ten times more. With the current intense state we are in when dealing with climate change we see these health risks increase, in fact black bodies are dying at about twice the rate of white people when it comes to heat related health causes. So what do we do about these health causes when there is even discrimination in health care services?
In continuation with elements of the program I will highlight was Dr. Fuller told us about health disparities. Not only does Dr. Fuller tell us about the discrimination in the health care world but she also tells us about the social factors that are influencing black peoples poor health. Those factors include, education, access to appropriate resources, income, familial support, community safety, and poverty. She explains that we are constantly telling people that if you eat better and exercise you will begin to see health improvements but the truth is that those factors only account for about 30% of our health outcomes and the social factors that I just listed above account for about 40% percent. In relation to the racist practices I mentioned earlier, where you own your home is honestly partially a protection for ones overall health because, for example if you are a black person that (because of the racist structures in our environment) lives in an area that has higher rates of crime and have poor quality education then it is more difficult for you to get a higher level of education, you will own a poorer quality home and therefore your overall wealth and health are less. Dr. Fuller explains that when these black folks seek healthcare services, racism is baked into the healthcare they seek in two ways, where can they get care? And who is providing that care? One, when these people are seeing a healthcare provider they are already not seeing a person that looks like them or shares their experiences, so already there is a miscommunication and misunderstanding between patient and doctor which provides inadequate care. And second, the location of healthcare services is not always accessible or of high quality. The nicest and fanciest healthcare facilities are put where people think wealthy people live and based on the history I recently explained those people end up being white. Dr. Fuller also gives us a few data points when it comes to black maternal health and their infant mortality. In conclusion, black mothers are more likely to die in childbirth than white women and their maternal and infant mortality rates are significantly higher. The neonatal infant mortality rate is counted by a thousand and 10.8 per thousand black babies die compared to 4.6 per thousand white babies. Why is this? Well when we look at the history explained earlier about what we put black people through then it could simply just be the cause of the underlying health conditions caused by their poor environments like high blood pressure. It could also be the psychological impact of their constant stress when dealing with their enviornments and racism. Dr. Kristopher Hall will tell us more about the black experience in counseling.
The final element that I want to highlight from the program is from Dr. Kristopher Hall who is examining how we deal with the emotional, psychological, and physical ramifications of the previous topics that I just mentioned. He says that none of the racist tactics are by accident, they are all by design, and so are our body and mental reactions. Dr. Hall says that in the context of mental health, black bodies are in constant fight or flight mode because everyday they are expecting racism even when they dont know when, what or if it will even happen for sure. When black people start to experience racism at a constant level it will start to affect the way the act, think and feel. Because of this the brain adapts and starts to deteriorate the body and that is when we start to see depression and anxiety. The issue when black people start to seek out counseling is that they are being seen by professionaly but ones that are not trained to see the racism as a trigger and stressor so it often gets overlooked. They may get inaccurately diagnosed because they were never asked about the environments around them. Current counselors are using outdated theories that might only work for white people, because when when we use some outdated theories we are unable to take into account the cultural contexts of the client, giving inadequate care. So what are our future solutions and ideas to combat the lingering negative health effects of environmental racism?
So what does this this mean for the future of these lingering effects of black history? What can we do? In this we explored how the systematic racism of societal and/or environmental inequities affect the health and well being of African Americans in three key ways: systemic racism in the environment, socioeconomic status and its effect on child development and healthcare, and minority success in the counseling field. What we can start with is awareness about systemic racism in the environment, because the kids we are bringing awareness to are the future and the next generation, so it can give us some hope to see them start to tackle these problems individually. Dr. Talley said that what we start to see happen is people feeling hopeless when they look at how systemic these issues are but what we can do it turn that thinking around and realize that we can attack this issues in a million different ways to undo the effects of redlining and make the outdoors more accessible. When it comes to the future of healthcare and socioeconomic status we must start by educating out healthcare providers so that they can understand the root causes of minority health issues. Dr. Fuller also mentioned that we must start setting up local food projects that are even smaller and more local for the people who need them and to make sure that they are accessible. And lastly what does the future look like for minority success in counseling? What we first have to do mirrors the solution to healthcare in the way that we need to diversify the pipeline of counselors and/or educate the new-coming counselors so that aggressions can be avoided in the counseling world. What I lastly want to end with is the fact that all of these experiences, like Dr. Hall said must be put into academia so that there is no tendency for people to say that it is false. Although society has made progress in realizing the issues with zoning and how it was a racist tactic, these issues have continued to maintain strength in our world today. The environmental racism issue has not yet been solved or dealt with. We are still living in a society where capitalism depends on the pursuit of our limitless and never ending/infinite profit. This is purely because people that have a high spot in our society prove that “fossil fuels are the solution” by showing how much it increases our economic growth. But in my personal opinion, what does economic growth even mean when it will just ultimately take away and destroy the world we live in. If our environment is destroyed, then there is no environment for an economy to even exist. A quote that really inspired me about this idea was one from the reading that said, “When humans use fossil fuels as the basis of social reproduction, they are choosing to live based on death instead of life,” (McGee, J. A. 2020).
Maher, T. (1998). Environmental oppression: Who is targeted for toxic exposure? Journal of
Black Studies, 28(3), 357–367. https://doi.org/10.1177/002193479802800305
McGee, J. A. (2020, May 20). Racial justice is climate justice: Racial capitalism and the fossil economy.
Rothstein, R., & Rothstein, R. (2018). Chapter 6: White Flight. In The color of law: A forgotten history of
how our government segregated America (pp. 82–99). essay, Liveright.
White, D. G., Bay, M., & Martin, W. E. (2021). Freedom on my mind: A history of African Americans, \
with documents (third). Bedford/St. Martins.