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Appearances can be misleading—and learning more about them can help us think more intelligently and act more kindly.

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The Silent Genocide in Black America

Race-based stress and negative health outcomes in U.S. Blacks

The United States is not Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Canada, Oceania, Central, or South America—we are all of them. Hence, in the struggle for “one world, one people” America is Gettysburg. However, if it were simple to create a country that is hospitable to all and hostile to none, the Romans would have done it. Living in pluralistic harmony is not easy or we would be doing it because we are a social species. 

The influence of complex human sociology extends beyond politics to health as epigenetics become epidemics. For example, heart disease in Black America: nearly half  (49%) of Black American men, myself included, have some form of heart disease. Old school physicians   attribute this to Sub-Saharan genetic predisposition for hypertension. This is simply not true. A World Health Organization study compared the blood pressures of Sub-Saharan African Blacks, Caribbean Blacks, and U.S. Blacks. This study found the following gradient: African Blacks' blood pressures were the lowest (actually lower than American Whites). Caribbean Blacks had slightly higher blood pressures, and American Blacks had extremely high blood pressures. A racial admixture study of blood pressure by Harvard geneticists, which studied over a thousand subjects, found no connection between Sub-Saharan African ancestry and hypertension. 

The African American diet is often cited as the problem. A healthy diet is germane to cardiac health. However, the southern diet and the Black diet are the same. Therefore, if diet were the sole source of Black America’s cardiac woes, southern Whites would experience similar levels of heart disease and they do not. Stress acts first, and foremost, on the cardiovascular system.  Hence, it’s reasonable to suspect the pathophysiology of race-based stress as an antecedent to elevated heart disease in Black America. This becomes extremely reasonable when you consider that more than three times as many college aged Black men are in jails than in college and the life expectancy for a Black man is seven years less than for any other group. Add the collapsing Black family and commnitiy structures and it becomes easy to see inherent stress in Black America.  

Watching so many White Americans’ irrational hatred of Barack Obama, further implicates race-based stress as the problem. Now consider this, Barack Obama is biracial, yet he became America’s “first Black president.” Black and White America share this mindset. On end of the spectrum irrational Whites (and some blacks) hate Barack Obama because he doesn't have white skin.  On the other end of the spectrum, some Blacks (and Whites) love Obama because he does not have white skin. Despising or loving a president for reasons other than his politics is just a surreptitious way of calling him the "N-word." When people use the “N-word” referring to me, the N is for nerd. So naturally, my first response was not outrage but hmm…that’s curious, I wonder why? The answer is triune: simian fear of darkness, symbolic interaction and pigmentocracy.

Simian Fear of Darkness

During the Pliocene Epoch (5.332 million to 1.806 million years ago), our simian ancestors, evolved from being insect eaters to fruit eaters. (In their defense, insects were meatier back then.)  Anyway, going from insectivores to frugivores caused the selective sweep of retina-expressed alleles that resulted in color vision. Unfortunately, tri-chromatic vision comes at the expense of low light vision. This was problematic because our evolutionary ancestors’ primary predators (hyenas, jackals etc.) were nocturnal carnivores, which are color blind, but possess excellent low-light vision. Hence, the fear and apprehension of darkness became a simian-wide survival instinct. The mammal brain consolidates and simplifies information whenever possible. (For example, the fight-or-flight instinct is a consolidation and slimplification of millions of lessons learned from encountering danger.) Neuro-evolutionists theorize that the need to fear and mistrust darkness, in tandem with the brain’s need to consolidate and simplify information is why dark and black became synonymous with bad and evil. 

Symbolic Interaction and Pigmentocracy

God vs. The Devil

Superior symbol usage is the reason humans are the dominant species, e.g., written and spoken language. Written language exists only because we agree that certain graphic configurations are letters of a complete set that we agree is an alphabet. Specific groupings and arrangements of that alphabet are words that represent specific events and objects—because we agree they do. Thus, written, and spoken languages are consensual realities, i.e. reality determined by social subscription, opposed to intrinsic reality, as found in nature and in science.   

Jackie weds; Jackie mourns

Symbolic interaction is essential to human survival; imagine human history without language.  When we symbolically interact.  It is not the symbols themselves that are important. It is what they represent (e.g. math, language, art, erotica, fashion etc.) Consider a black dress and veil compared to a white dress and a veil. Simian fear of darkness, and human dependency on symbolic interaction, predicated by the brain’s need to continuously consolidate, simplify, and reintegrate information is how darkness came to symbolically represent bad and evil in the evolution of human thought. 

For example, the darkest hour, dark personality, black hearted, black mood, dark horse, dark character, dark deeds, light spirit, light hearted, white knight, etc.  It is why most religions rejoice in white, and grieve in black. It is also the reason so many people have an irrational fear and mistrust of dark skin. In the old mammal brain, because of simian fear of darkness, the mantra is dark equals danger, therefore dark is bad. Fortunately, in the new thinking part of the brain, many humans can override these primitive instincts.  If that were not true, America would have never elected Obama. Also true, the new brain’s ability to override antediluvian responses in the old brain is not a constant. Therefore we all, Blacks included, from time to time have old brain fear-based responses to darker skin, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.  

The Pathophysiology of Race-Based Stress: Connecting the Dots

We know when the brain perceives stress its first response is to elevate blood pressure in preparation for the eventuality of fight-or-flight.  The second response is to elevate blood sugars for quick energy. We also know that feeling constantly under siege is stressful. What does that tell you about being Black in terms of the uninterrupted assault of language, art, and social customs on the Black psyche by the symbolic representation of black and darkness? Beyond that, Blacks are humans first, and Black second, so these old brain responses do not exclude Blacks. This affects self-esteem and management of that is an added persistent stressor. Living in a world where you are instinctually feared, albeit often times subtle, is perpetually stressful as well. 

Constant stress results in allostatic load, which is when the body’s protective mechanisms become destructive from over usage. Unfortunately, the stress response begins in the old mammal brain, and when it’s enacted the thinking part of the brain is deliberately shutdown because the priority is to survive now, ask questions later.  More unfortunately, the old mammal brain, again for survival purposes, cannot distinguish between real and actual threat. Therefore, with the thinking brain disengaged, the old mammal brain responds to innocuous threats, like women holding their purses tighter when they see a Black man, and other subtle forms of racism, such as blacks being deemed as “acting White” or being an “Oreo” when they are articulate and educated. 

Tragically, this constant perception of threat results in constant over usage of stress regulatory mechanisms, which causes allostatic load. Elevated blood pressure, which is vital in true fight-or-flight situations, becomes hypertension when it is chronically enabled by the old brain's response to symbolic psychic assaults by language, art, cultural etc., in congress with other constant micro-stressors. Likewise, consistently elevated glucose becomes diabetes. In addition, using food as a way of increasing dopamine to elevate mood often becomes compulsive overeating and substance abuse. The cardinal markers for allostatic load are cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Black Americans experience higher cardiovascular and metabolic disease, comparatively, than any other population on earth according to the World Health Organization.  This is not a coincidence. It is a conseqence of being Black in America. 

Scientific knowledge separated from context becomes collected information. This is especially true in humans understanding humans and human destiny. The human journey is not easy, and destiny can be difficult to embrace. They say the price of freedom and knowledge is not free. The price of freedom and knowledge for Black America has become the silent genocide of negative health outcomes because of the unholy alliance of simian fear of darkness, symbolic interaction and pigmentocracy. I know this is disheartening for Black America. However, the first step in avoiding an undesirable destiny is recognizing it. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, I too, “have a dream”—a black America whose hearts are not literally and figuratively broken. Happy Martin Luther King Day, remain fabulous and phenomenal. 

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