Several studies in recent years have shown that racism has had an adverse effect on the health of the African American community. But a new study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the University of Cincinnati shows that racism can also impact the health of Whites.
The authors point out that health care policies that favor the mostly White upper and upper-middle classes may be impacted by racism directed against lower-class African Americans. But policies that adversely impact much of the African American community also have a negative effect on an even larger group of poor Whites. The authors point out that there are higher rates of suicide and substance abuse among Whites than is the case for Blacks.
The authors note too that African Americans may be more resilient when times are bad than is the case for Whites. “White-collar workers have difficulty making meaning of their job loss. Their belief in meritocracy leads them to blame themselves rather than external forces for their situation,” the authors wrote. “In contrast to Whites, Blacks are more likely to rely on structural explanations for accounting for their adversities.” That tendency, the authors speculate, may afford people of color with relative mental health advantages in adverse economic or social circumstances.
Jennifer Malat, a professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati and co-author of the study, stated that “Our system of racial inequality — while it provides a lot of benefits to Whites overall — may also harm White people sometimes.” She notes that White Americans’ life expectancy ranks only 35th in the world — behind that of Cuba, South Korea, Greece and Chile.