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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Revealing and Uprooting Cellular Violence: Black Men and the Biopsychosocial Impact of Racial Microaggressions

  • Author(s): Watson, Kenjus Terrel
  • Advisor(s): Sol�rzano, Daniel G
  • et al.
No data is associated with this publication.

Although the overall health in the US has improved over the past few decades, Black men, regardless of socioeconomic status or educational attainment, bear a disproportionate burden in disease morbidity and mortality. African-American men remain the most vulnerable racial gender group for almost every health condition that medical researchers monitor and feature the lowest life expectancy of any cohort in the country. Current research suggests college-educated African-Americans accumulate stress through frequent encounters with subtle and seemingly ambiguous forms of racial discrimination. These racial microaggressions (a particularly mundane and insidious form of modern racism) can wreak havoc on the psychological and physiological functioning of Black males and may be complicit in their elevated levels of stress-related disease and shortened lifespans. Most educational research on Black males’ racialized experiences at purposively white colleges and universities (PWIs) has featured qualitative, self-report measures of psychological health. Educational researchers know far less about potential long-term physiological and physical health outcomes associated with racial microaggressions.

My dissertation, Revealing Cuts Beneath the Skin: Black Collegiate Men and the Biopsychosocial Impact of Racial Microaggressions, examines the effect of racial microaggressions on indicators of early biologic dysregulation among Black male collegians. Guided by the tenets of Critical Race Theory in Education, I utilized a Transformative Sequential Mixed Method to collect biostatiscal (saliva sample), quantitative (microaggression survey), and qualitative (focus group) data to more reliably investigate the relationship between Black collegiate males’ recognized experiences with and responses to “everyday racial invalidations” on PWIs and their relative telomere length; a biometric of stress-related (vs. chronological) aging.

Analysis of the survey data revealed that nearly all of the men report some form of stress-related ailment (such as tension headaches, stomach pain, and difficulty sleeping). Additionally, the majority of participants anticipate that they will endure daily discrimination and prepare for the potential of negative interactions prior to leaving their living spaces each day. However, when considering survey responses in relation to participant telomere lengths, a far higher proportion (85-100%) of individuals with longer telomeres recognized enduring everyday discrimination across various campus spaces and attributed these negative experiences to racism compared to individuals with shorter telomere (less than 46%).

This mixed method study suggests that Black students on PWIs are besieged by daily encounters with antiblack racism. The findings also speak to the importance of Derrick Bell’s concept of racial permanence and Chester Pierce’s (the person who coined the term racial microaggression) contention that Black people must be prepared to recognize and navigate a racialized climate that is inherently noxious to their existence. Moreover, it appears that the unnaturally shortened lifespans of Black men marked by the social embodiment of racism commence earlier than was previously imagined. The current findings affirm the interdisciplinary work of scholars investigating the impact of racism across various levels of societal interaction in Public Health, Social Epidemiology, and Psychology and help extend their observations to the field of Education.

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This item is under embargo until June 17, 2021.