The physical cost of color

by julie on March 21, 2012

At our house, if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. Even without my beloved Tim Russert, we continue to watch.

This Sunday morning, I had to head out for a long run. As the Colorado Marathon draws closer, neither Kyle nor I can afford to cheat on the long training runs, and since we both had to crank out 16 miles, I decided I would go first.

As I closed the front door behind me, I flung a reminder over my shoulder: “Tell me if they talk about Trayvon.”

I had heard about the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, but it wasn’t until last weekend that I realized the man who shot him was not in custody. That police had done nothing to investigate George Zimmerman’s actions — taking his self-defense claim at face value and, in accordance with Florida law, letting him go.

Reading Charles Blow’s op-ed in the New York Times, I was struck by the impact of Trayvon’s death on parents of color:

As the father of two black teenage boys, this case hits close to home. This is the fear that seizes me whenever my boys are out in the world: that a man with a gun and an itchy finger will find them “suspicious.” That passions may run hot and blood run cold. That it might all end with a hole in their chest and hole in my heart. That the law might prove insufficient to salve my loss.

That is the burden of black boys in America and the people that love them: running the risk of being descended upon in the dark and caught in the cross-hairs of someone who crosses the line.

Of course all parents fear for our children’s safety. As time passes, our anxieties shift. I no longer worry that my son will tumble down the stairs (though he still might); now I worry that he will dart across the street without first looking both ways. Even when they are adults, I will be concerned for their safety, just as I’m concerned for my husband’s safety and he’s concerned for mine.

But our mutual concern differs from that of parents of color. I don’t worry that my children’s race could possibly play a role in putting them in danger. Blow, like other parents of color (or white parents with children of color), does bear the burden of such worries.

There’s a physical cost to these parents; I’ve written about it before:

Just Google “allostatic load and race.” Ongoing research clearly indicates that the stress of potential negative perception has a demonstrable negative effect on physical health.

It doesn’t matter whether families of color hail from public housing or gated communities like the one in which Trayvon was shot. The physical cost of color transcends economics:

The research has found that even affluent black folks have higher markers for allostatic load than poor whites, despite the real stresses that the latter contend with each day.

Add to Trayvon’s completely unjustifiable and indefensible murder, police misconduct and deliberate disobedience of 911 instructions by George Zimmerman, and it’s easy to see why people of color are terrified by these events.

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