Why The Pain Of Racism Is Real For Black People

Woman with hands folded over face
Leslie Taylor-Grover
June 11, 2020

What started as a pain treatment experiment has proved what our people have known all along about racism: it hurts. But this study suggests something even more critical for our well-being as Black people.

Racism creates emotional responses that have a direct effect on how intensely our bodies feel pain. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps perform functions like planning things or making judgments in situations, actually heats up intensely in response to pain. But it gets deeper.

Our brains process racial discrimination, too, and this can affect our interactions with doctors. In the study, pain was more intense with white doctors and less intense with Black doctors. And it’s worse for those who have experienced recent racism. So what does this mean?

The cruelty and violence we have experienced at the hands of racists affects us, especially those of us who say we have experienced RECENT discrimination or racism. But there is good news.

When our people are treated by Black doctors, even those of us who have experienced recent discrimination or racism, those same parts of the brain lessen pain. The bottom line is this: The pain from racism hurts us. 

We must fight to have racism recognized as a public health issue, and support increased Black entry into medical fields to help our people!

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