Barring a few outliers who claim that it’s met its demise, most people can acknowledge that racism is still a component of American society. While strides have been taken to eradicate the disease, racial preconceptions are still very much a part of the American machine. Historically, racism is notoriously difficult to map, because most people, when asked if they’re racist, just say no. Of course, they do. No one wants to admit they’re a bigot. At least not in public. In front of a computer screen, however, in a comfortably anonymous setting, it’s much easier to let your true feelings show.
On Friday, April 24, a study from the University of Maryland drew comparisons between area-based racism and the mortality rate of black people. Using data collected from Google Trends between 2004 and 2007, the study compared the number of Google searches containing the N-word in a given area with the mortality rate of black people in the same area. The study crunched the numbers from 2004 to 2007 and only included searches in which the use of the N-word ended in -er or -ers, because researchers found that searches for more colloquial uses of the N-word (when it ends in -a, for example) tended to be “used in different contexts”. The assumption here is that slang variations on the N-word were used in a friendlier manner.
Citing, “robust associations between area racism and heart disease, cancer, and stroke, leading causes of death among Blacks,” the study explains that dealing with bigotry on even the most subconscious level can cause serious detriment to one’s health.
The study maintains that racism has a significant negative impact on the well-being of its victims, asserting, “Racially motivated experiences of discrimination impact health [by] … geographically isolating large segments of the Black population into worse neighborhood conditions. These areas are typically characterized by … poverty and crime, and fewer health-promoting resources, including recreational facilities, parks, supermarkets, and quality healthcare. Such characteristics shape health behaviors such as exercise, diet, and substance use. Racial discrimination in employment can also lead to lower income and greater financial strain, which in turn have been linked to worse mental and physical health outcomes.”
The paper goes on to suggest that beyond those indirectly related factors, racism has a much more direct impact on the health of black people. Whether you’ve dealt with racism on a personal level or not, it stands to reason that dealing with discrimination based on something outside your control (like your skin color) would be inherently stressful. This stress triggers “psychobiological mechanisms” that cause depression and anxiety, which, in turn, wears down a body much faster than normal. The study calls this phenomenon “weathering.” That may help explain why the life expectancy of a black person is fully 4 years shorter than the life expectancy of a white person.
The study’s results reinforce previous research on the topic. For example, Humboldt State University recently unveiled Geography of Hate, an interactive map that illustrates the geographic location of hateful buzzwords used in Tweets. That study was “based on every geocoded tweet in the United States from June 2012 – April 2013” that contained one of a handful of “hate words”. That study supported the notion that racism is alive and well in parts of the South as well as the rural Northeast.
What may surprise readers is how little states like Texas, Arizona and the general South actually featured in the results. One doesn’t typically associate rampant racism with segments of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Upper Peninsula, but both Geography of Hate and this newest study from the University of Maryland point to those regions as hotbeds of discrimination (at least online).