Like many of you, I have experienced the events of the past weeks with a profound sense of anguish. My heart goes out to the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. My heart breaks at the incomprehensible number who have been harmed by racist violence and by the inaction that has allowed those harms to take place.
As a doctor and a policymaker, I often hear the question “what it is about black and brown people” that makes us more vulnerable to the virus? That question infuriates me. The science makes clear how powerfully our experiences and environments shape our biology. It has been clear for decades. Our daily experiences activate cascades of biological pathways. When those experiences are nurturing and enriching, they put us on a trajectory of wellness and resilience. But when those experiences threatening and adverse, they accelerate us down the path of early disease and death. Racist oppression ensures that black and brown children bear a disproportionate burden of dehumanizing and traumatic experiences. Science shows it is sickening them and killing them.
In my book “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-term Effects of Childhood Adversity” I describe a scene that all too many black parents can identify with. It’s 2014, before our youngest was born. I’m on vacation with my husband and our three boys. We are waiting for a table outside a restaurant in rural Nevada. As I round the corner returning from a quick trip to the restroom, I take in a scene that stops me in my tracks. Two burly Caucasian men with steel-toe boots, shaved heads and dark grey neck tattoos are glowering at our three black boys as they play, unsuspectingly, on a bench in front of the restaurant. My husband, a few feet away has eyes trained on the two men. His fists are clenched. He is clearly in full-blown fight or flight mode.
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