This Is How Racism Damages Your Health
Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, died from racism. Her uphill battle of fighting for racial equity after the unjust death of her father in 2014 was worthy, but she suffered, and paid the ultimate price.
On December 30, 2017, she died at the age of 27 after being placed in a medically-induced coma, following a heart attack, according to news reports.
Erica endured chronic stress from her work as an organizer, but also from her life as a Black woman, born into a deeply racist and sexist society that strained her health. Chronic stress from discrimination and poverty hurts Black women’s health by raising their risk for various health conditions, like heart disease. And years of science backs it up.
In fact, one study found that middle-aged Black women are approximately 7.5 years biologically “older” than their white counterparts. For decades, Black women have taken on multiple caretaking roles in their families, friend groups, workplaces,and communities.
Black women have made incredible strides in college attendance, worked harder for less, and fought for liberation through activism and organizing. And it literally kills them.
Because of this, Zora Neale Hurston’s words still ring true that Black women become the “mules of the earth.” This devastating narrative of Black women suffering in the United States is so common that it has a name - The Sojourner Syndrome.
The concept is named after Sojourner Truth to describe how racism, sexism, and classism all negatively impact Black women’s health. Leith Mullings developed the concept to explain why so many Black women continued to have miscarriages, low birth weight, preterm, and stillborn babies, no matter their education or income levels.
We can honor Erica Garner by fighting for a support system for Black women and their health. Universal health care, a living wage, and increased high-quality social services like low-cost child care, would be a start. When we uplift Black women, we uplift our community.
To learn more about the Sojourner Syndrome, check out Leith Mullings work Stress and Resilience: The Social Context of Reproduction in Central Harlem.
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