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Tony N. Brown

Associate Professor of Sociology
Associate Director, Center for Research on Health Disparities

What is racism’s impact on black people?

Social scientists struggle to specify the meaning and significance of racism for U.S. blacks and blacks of the global south. The struggle continues because: 1. we do not think seriously enough about race, 2. racism is poorly conceptualized and measured, 3. we are more comfortable talking about socioeconomic status, and 4. there is a shortage of high-quality survey and observational data centralizing blacks’ experiences. I am interested in how racism works, from the womb to the tomb, to disadvantage blacks and privilege whites. Its workings include interactions across interpersonal, institutional, and cultural levels, implicating the mundane and extraordinary in the maintenance of white supremacy.

In my research, I avoid attempting to explain away the race coefficient. Instead, I choose to examine heterogeneity within black populations with the understanding that race is socially constructed and represents shared experiences, attitudes, and beliefs.

In one study, we found that black parents before, during, and after Brown v. Board consistently taught their children that whites were prejudiced, despite the fact that many scholars today suggest the civil rights movement eliminated racism and that we live currently in a color-blind society. In another study, I argue that racism is a pathogen that alters how researchers should measure psychiatric disorders. I outline five novel psychiatric disorders that are prevalent because of racism, challenging those who think racial inequality is reducible to socioeconomic status or that mainstream paradigms like the stress process model could ever fully explain the burden of blackness. In a recent conference presentation, I demonstrate that high levels of racial identity associate with high levels of allostatic load among black adults. This association demonstrates that embracing blackness produces physiological dysregulation. Such a notion, while unsettling, can be explained by a critical race approach to hypothesizing how racism gets under the skin.