Frequently experiencing the stress caused by racial discrimination—whether in the form of lower wages in the workplace than one’s peers or living in a poor neighborhood with a high rate of violence and little access to fresh fruits and vegetables—can significantly impact peoples’ mental and physical health, says David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology at Harvard University in an Aug. 17, 2016 Facebook Live Q&A with the Washington Post.
Being exposed to chronic stress has been shown to contribute to the early onset of heart disease, Williams said, highlighting some examples of the cumulative impact of discrimination. “Women who are pregnant and who experience everyday discrimination give birth to lower birth weight infants. Among elderly persons followed over time, discrimination is actually an independent risk factor hastening their death.”