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How Racism Slowly Chips Away at Black People’s Health

Enduring is all I have. It’s what my ancestors passed on.

This is Race and Medicine, a series dedicated to unearthing the uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening truth about racism in healthcare. By highlighting the experiences of Black people and honoring their health journeys, we look to a future where medical racism is a thing of the past.


A close relative asked if I watched the full videos of the most recent series of “open season” on Black life: the violence against Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, to name a few.

The truth is, I don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to endure watching these videos.

I’m just trying to stay well so I don’t compromise my immune system and catch a life threatening virus that’s attacking people’s respiratory systems. Meanwhile, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement is ironically echoed by the slogan “I can’t breathe.”

I want to watch these videos to shake off my numbness, even go out and protest. Unfortunately, maintaining my health won’t allow me to show up in this way.

I sometimes find myself in bed trying to sleep long enough to miss the endless terrorizing news cycle with no trigger warnings. I’m overwhelmed and angry, and there’s no justice in sight.

With each shooting, life gets put on hold while I try to reckon again. I conjure up coping mechanisms for now. Running, cooking, and listening to music tend to divert my attention just long enough before the next news story.

However, I still feel burdened by this cycle, like there’s truly no escaping this racist society. Enduring is all I have. It’s what my ancestors passed on.

We are all focusing on protecting both our physical and our mental health during this pandemic; however, navigating this crisis is especially difficult for African Americans.

COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting the Black community. Black people are more likely to be essential workers in frontline jobs and are at a higher risk for hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

On top of that, Black people are still fighting and marching to end systemic injustice. It all serves to reinforce how trivial Black life is considered in America. The weight of this reality is more than exhausting — it’s deteriorating.

Arline Geronimus, a Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan, developed the term weathering in 1992 to best describe what’s taking place.

Geronimus’ study found racial inequalities in health across a range of biological systems among adults. The study also found that these inequalities can’t be explained by racial differences in poverty.

Geronimus spoke with Healthline about her work.

“Weathering is… what happens to your body in a racist society. I named it weathering because I saw it as a way of capturing what it does,” Geronimus says. “Weathering happens when Black people have to demonstrate…resiliency in a racist society.”

There are numerous ways weathering can take place, from passing on trauma from one generation to the next, to workplace