Repetitive news about racial violence has a detrimental effect on the mental health of African Americans, a new study says.
Research done by a team of scientists at the University of Utah and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA shows that Black people are affected by violent episodes even if they are not directly involved, according to Scientific American.
The authors of the study, led by University of Utah assistant professor David Curtis, observed 49 separate incidents of racial violence between 2013 and 2017, which got varying levels of search interest. They including 38 incidents in which a Black person was killed by police and news coverage of decisions against prosecuting police officers involved in killings.
Black respondents to the survey said that at times they had poorer mental health at times when two or more of these incidents happened, but whites did not.
Many people, like Desmond Ellington were specific about what the constant news content about the killings of Black people by police, like what has seemingly been unending for the past year, and how they are impact emotionally.
“I’m still very aware that it could happen to me,” Ellington, an actor and singer who lives in New York and has toured as part of the cast of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, told Scientific American. “I have to know how to conduct myself when I’m out. I’m always thinking, ‘Am I walking or standing too close to this person?’
“It’s a burden that I have to be in that box so I can get back home to my family. It’s so emotionally and physically draining,” he continued. “You don’t even realize how much until you see another Black man get shot. I think it’s in those moments you realize how much of a burden it is to be Black in America.”
Vanessa Volpe, a North Carolina State University’s Black Health Lab researcher, told Scientific American that the fatigue Black people like Ellington experience could be like wear and tear on an automobile.
“Because exposure to racism is chronic, frequent and can happen at any time, you have to be vigilant to protect yourself,” she said. “Over time, your body is going to experience this wear and tear that will result in much greater rates of morbidity and earlier mortality for Black folks, compared to white people.
A lot of times, we think, ‘Just get a better car or replace the parking brake,’ but that’s a Band-Aid,” Volpe continued. “What can we do so that Black people don’t even have that exposure in the first place?”
Ellington expounded on what Volpe said by describing his real-time experience as a Black man.
“It gets to the point where you decide, ‘I have to turn off the television because I have my sanity to take care of,’ ” he said. “It’s like a sadness, a hopelessness. Those images just keep coming like weeds. You pick one weed, and two more sprout up. So you gonna set the whole yard on fire to kill the weeds? It wears on your psyche.”