NEI Max
NEI Max
Source/Disclosures
Source:

Higgins Jr. NB. Systematic racism and its impact on the mental and physical health of Black Americans. Presented at: NEI Max; Nov. 5-8, 2020 (virtual meeting).

Disclosures: Higgins Jr. reports no relevant financial disclosures.
November 06, 2020
2 min read
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Acknowledging racism, focusing on anti-racist efforts helps Black Americans’ health

Source/Disclosures
Source:

Higgins Jr. NB. Systematic racism and its impact on the mental and physical health of Black Americans. Presented at: NEI Max; Nov. 5-8, 2020 (virtual meeting).

Disclosures: Higgins Jr. reports no relevant financial disclosures.
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Systematic racism has had a significant impact on the mental and physical health of Black Americans, according to a presenter at the NEI Max virtual conference.

“Systematic racism involves a historical and systemic interplay of years and generations of racism through multiple systems,” Napoleon B. Higgins Jr., MD, president and CEO of Bay Point Behavioral Health Services Inc. and South East Houston Research Group in Texas, said during the presentation. “10% of white [Americans] are impoverished vs. 26% of Black [Americans], so one in four Black families are living in poverty, with 44% of those being single Black parents.”

Higgins Jr. likened the experience of systematic racism for Black Americans to the stages of loss and grief, beginning with behaving as if there isn’t a problem in the denial stage and working to developing a plan and doing all one can to confront systematic obstacles in the acceptance stage. He also noted different forms of racism: individual, which is person-to-person and includes bias, stereotyping, microaggressions and macroaggressions; structural, which is institutional-to-people and involves policies and practices that benefit one group of people over another; and the aforementioned systematic form.

Systematic racism has significant effects on the physical health and health care of Black Americans, according to Higgins Jr. Specifically, social determinants shape the distribution of money, power and resources on the global, national and local levels, which in turn can alter neighborhoods, health care, economic stability, education and communities. Racial divides remain even when controlling for socioeconomic factors, Higgins Jr. noted. Relevant statistics that highlight these disparities included a 1.6 times higher pregnancy death rate among Black women with college degrees and a 3 times higher death rate for Black newborns who were assigned to white physicians.

Housing has also been affected by systematic racism, with factors like redlining, displacement, exclusion and segregation having led to a “gross denial of generational wealth,” Higgins Jr. said. Other racial disparities are prevalent in incarceration rates, availability of nutritional options, environmental racism, educational/intellectual gaps, work and employment opportunities and media portrayal of the stereotypical “Black super thug.”

“The fact is that we're generationally behind coming out of slavery, where we did not own anything for ourselves,” Higgins Jr. said. “Black children and adolescents are less likely to be seen to have a mental illness and more likely to be seen as having an internal issue of how they act and behave, and they’re less likely to be referred to a counselor and more likely to be referred to the assistant principal.”

Higgins Jr. emphasized the importance of anti-racism as a means of improving the mental and physical outcomes of Black Americans.

“We can look at what is unwell in the country, but we also need to take a closer look at what we do about it,” he said. “We not only have to say that we don't like racism in our country, but we need to be anti-racist, which is an active and conscious effort to work against multi-dimensional aspects of racism.”