I wouldn’t exactly call myself an expert on statistical analysis and whatnot, but I’m fairly confident that I know how to read data. That’s what makes me so surprised when I see studies that link something as nebulous as “racism” with results as tangible as infant mortality. Now dig, I understand that racism is serious and has some serious effects, but I find it hard to see the direct causal relationship to babies dying young. And that’s before we even look at the variables that are included under “racism.”
Gettin’ down to the meat of the article,
In his research, Lu and his colleagues found that the disproportionately higher number of fast-food restaurants and liquor stores, lower number of grocery stores and the higher cost of fresh produce in many urban, predominately black communities caused poorer pregnant black women to make stressful choices about what to eat and where to live. So did the higher crime rates in these communities and worries about sending children to poorly equipped, understaffed schools.
That’s racism? Seriously? Is that what it’s come down to? Now understand, I’m not pooh-poohing the idea that racism has a residual stressful effect on people. Nor am I ignorant enough to not-know that stress has a deleterious effect on the body and that it manifests itself in a variety of maladies. But – and this is a sofa – these variables here? Suspect. At least as manifestations of the R. Follow me: if the lack of fresh produce, high crime rates, and bad schools are a causal factor in high infant mortality for poor women, then why does the racial disparity persist when income, and presumably the factors mentioned above, are controlled?
What frustrates me is that there’s an important research question in there. By settling for an easy, soundbite-ready, pat answer in racism, however, we miss out on it. To go back to one of my favorite models, I think the real research question is not a matter of a cross-racial comparison. I think the real question to ask is why, between women with virtually identical social address markers, one has a low birth-weight baby and the other does not. See, racism is a hot topic and therefore easy to talk about. I’d be curious to see the data disaggregated by features other than race. If we can figure out why two women with the same stressors have different outcomes, we might find ourselves with more actionable items and fewer talking points.