Wednesday, December 20, 2017


"So, there was something about growing up black in the United States and then bearing a child that was associated with lower birth weight," says [University of Illinois at Chicago neonatologist Richard] David.

What is different about growing up black in America is discrimination, says David.
How Racism May Cause Black Mothers To Suffer The Death Of Their Infants
But is that the only thing that is different? While I understand that between questions about housing, income, health habits and discrimination, that the understanding of discrimination may be the best predictor of very low birth weights for newborn babies, correlation doesn't always prove causality.

Racism and discrimination have become our "Get Out of Blame Free" cards, when perhaps what we need to do is be less willing to shoulder blame in the first place. We often feel a need to be on guard, or take responsibility for what comes next, and maybe that's unhealthy for us.

The point of the NPR article is that the stress caused by racial discrimination may be causing the high rate at which Black women in the United States lose their infants. But that begs this question: Is racial discrimination the ONLY cause of stress in the lives of Black people that other people don't have to deal with? Technically, the NPR article gets around this by not openly stating a causal relationship. But the lines are wide enough to read between. And that's kind of a shame, because given that a causal relationship is not established, there could be other factors at work.

One very important issue when it comes to racial discrimination is that it may or may not be possible to determine discrimination when it happens. There was a study, which I can't seem to find online for love or money that noted that when Black people went to a business (I believe that auto dealerships were the subject in this particular case) that even though they believed they were being treated perfectly fairly, they didn't receive the same level of service as White people coming to the same dealership.

And this idea, that one can't always detect when one is the subject of racism, may contribute to the stress, because it drives a constant uncertainty. Sure, this person that you're dealing with seems perfectly nice and cordial. But maybe they'll just fooling you, and actually dislike you, or won't give you a fair deal. There may be wisdom in second-guessing every interaction that you have with someone, but let me tell you, it can be tiring to never be able to feel comfortable around people who are not like you.

And one of my experiences of growing up Black was the constant warnings that one should never be too comfortable around White people.

My parents were fairly conservative, so they never talked about sex with me. Even when my lack of a dating life led them to worry that I might be gay, they simply asked me outright "Are you gay?" rather than ask potential uncomfortable questions about my sex life. So I remember the only piece of dating advice that my father ever gave me. "Stay away from White girls," he said. I figured I knew where this was going. One didn't have to be particularly astute around 1990 to understand that hostility to interracial relationships came from all corners. But, as usual, my father threw me a curve ball when he informed me that the reason was that White people, effectively, universally hated Black people. "And a woman who will sleep with someone she hates," my father warned me, "will sleep around on you in a heartbeat."

And this idea, that White people (or White Americans, at least) were universally racist was pervasive in my extended family. Sure you had to deal with them, but you could never, ever, really trust them. And that feeling that no matter where you went, there were people out to get you, drives an anxiety all it's own. I drove up to northern Minnesota once, and was so nervous about stopping at a McDonald's to eat that I positioned myself near a large window, with my car just outside and chair within arm's reach, ready to make a break for it at the slightest sign of trouble.
[Samantha] Pierce remembers her mother warning her early on in her childhood that she would have to "work twice as hard to get half as much" as her white counterparts, she says.
My mother had a variation on this phrase. And and it was something that I found quite stressful; the idea that I would have to work four times as hard as everyone else, just to keep up. Eventually, I had to say to her, "Mom, do you understand how demotivating that is?" She didn't and I don't think that anyone else in my family did. It was just reality as it occurred to them. But it's a reality that leaves no room for trust or safety.

I'm not surprised that Black people find life in the United States stressful. But I wonder how much of that stress originates within us.

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