Racial Discrimination Worsens As People Get Wealthier — And It Has Troubling Effects On Their Health

How do you stop yourself from facing racial discrimination? This burden shouldn't be on people of color, but when white people don't acknowledge the reality of systemic racism, the responsibility often falls on the shoulders of minorities. One study found 38 percent of white Americans think Black people are viewed the same as whites, compared to only 8 percent of Black Americans who think the U.S. treats all races equally. Basically, the people who are benefiting from systemic racism also don't recognize it.

One idea that's gained traction is that people of color who earn a lot of money shouldn't complain about racism — consider those who cited Colin Kaepernick's wealth as a reason he shouldn't protest police brutality. But as it turns out, making a lot of money won't protect you from it. According to a new study, people of color experience more discrimination when they're upwardly mobile — and this has particular effects on healthcare.

The study, conducted by researchers from Ohio State University, examined 33 years of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. It found that "upwardly mobile" Black and Hispanic people — people of color who are becoming wealthier and more successful — are more likely to experience discrimination than minorities who stay in the same socioeconomic class. Additionally, successful minorities are more at risk for health problems than their equally successful white peers. And the reason why is, well, pretty upsetting.

Researchers Looked At Two Types Of Discrimination

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Researchers looked at people who faced what they call acute and chronic discrimination. Acute discrimination describes more egregious behavior, like being fired because of your race or denied a promotion due to discrimination, while chronic discrimination is sometimes harder to detect (being treated with less respect or people being afraid of you). Upwardly mobile Black people were more likely to report acute discrimination, while Hispanic people who became successful over time were more at risk for chronic discrimination.

Discrimination Can Also Affect Health Care

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One troubling finding: Disparities in health between races is more pronounced "at the upper end of the socioeconomic spectrum," which means discrimination in the healthcare system is more likely as a person of color experiences more success, in contrast to previous thinking. According to the study, wealthy black women are more likely than less-wealthy white women to face high blood pressure and obesity. Previous research has found that black women, regardless of how much formal education they've received, are more likely to have infants die during childbirth.

“Socioeconomic status is so often thought to be the fundamental cause of health disparities, but this research shows us that we should consider other factors, including racism,” said lead author Cynthia Colen in a press release. “Our study suggests that upward mobility might expose African Americans to more discrimination, and that could have a harmful effect on their health.”

Successful People Of Color May Find Themselves In Awkward Situations More Frequently

One theory presented by the study's authors is that non-white people who are becoming more successful could find themselves in more situations where there aren't many people of color, which could present more opportunities for discrimination.

I'm not surprised, and I'm sure other people of color who have spent a lot of time in majority-white communities can relate. I was raised in a suburb that is 75 percent white, and I faced subtle racism and veiled as a compliment — think comments along the line of "you're not like other black people" and "you're practically white." This study confirms what some of us already knew: Hanging out with white people won't save you, and neither will class privilege. The people who discriminate, whether unintentionally or with ill intent, are the only ones who can make the U.S. safer for people of color.