FOUR YEARS AGO, researchers identified a surprising price for being a black woman in America. The study of 334 midlife women, published in the journal Health Psychology, examined links between different kinds of stress and risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Black women who pointed to racism as a source of stress in their lives, the researchers found, developed more plaque in their carotid arteries -- an early sign of heart disease -- than black women who didn't. The difference was small but important -- making the report the first to link hardening of the arteries to racial discrimination.
The study was just one in a fast-growing field of research documenting how racism literally hurts the body. More than 100 studies -- most published since 2000 -- now document the effects of racial discrimination on physical health. Some link blood pressure to recollected encounters with bigotry. Others record the cardiovascular reactions of volunteers subjected to racist imagery in a lab. Forthcoming research will even peek into the workings of the brain during exposure to racist provocations.