Reflection on Racism and Toxic Stress


For this reflection, I want to focus on Day 16, racism and toxic stress. As with each day of this challenge, there are many great resources, but I want to focus on this article from NPR, about the ways that racism hurts the health of those who experience it.

There are numerous and documented racial differences in health, like higher levels of Type 2 diabetes or increased rates of cardiovascular disease, and social epidemiologists have begun to uncover that this may be related to the racism those individuals experience. It is well known that black children are more than twice as likely as white children to develop asthma and there are racial and ethnic gaps in infant mortality. These differences go beyond simple genetics. Amani Nuru-Jeter, a social epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, hypothesizes that chronic stress from racism may contribute to these disparities.

My first thought is always to consider how this affects our clients. Clients have experienced the trauma of their sexual assault, but they may also have experienced repeated instances of racism. There was a study mentioned in the article that looked at low birth weight rates in Latina mothers in Iowa after an ICE raid in Postville. Women who were US citizens and lived on the opposite side of the state still recorded these low birth weights. While our clients may not directly experience the border camps or be the victim of the most recent example of police brutality, they still suffer. Their body may still be reacting by producing stress hormones. We must work to ensure, from the minute they walk into our lobby, that CRCC does not become a place their body must prepare for racism.

While our focus is often clients, we must not forget to consider this as it relates to our coworkers. The article mentioned various studies that show when the body is preparing for threats, it releases stress hormones. When this happens regularly, it can be extremely toxic and effect key systems, like the cardiovascular system and neuroendocrine system. As an organization, we must continue to offer, attend, and learn from trainings that seek to acknowledge and stop these experiences. The consequences of repeated exposure to microaggressions can cause life-long health consequences.

We must work to ensure that both clients and colleagues are not put in harm’s way simply by walking through our doors.

Take Care,
Mary Margaret Whitney