Over ten years ago University of Utah researcher William A. Smith coined the term “racial battle fatigue” while studying how racial “microagressions” marginalized black students at predominately white colleges and universities. Racial Battle Fatigue, he wrote, meant African descent constantly worry, have trouble concentrating, become fatigued, and develop headaches when navigating personal and professional spaces that have historically favored white people.
More recently a series of studies have built on Smith’s findings, with researchers coming to similar conclusions about what has been described as the pitfalls of living while black. ThinkProgress details one of the latest academic works, featured in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, focused on generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — defined as more than six months of severe worrying and tension.
Researchers examined data from the National Survey of American Life, a study of more than 5,800 American adults -– 60 percent of whom were African American, nearly 25 percent were Afro-Caribbean, and 15 percent were non-Hispanic whites. More than 40 percent of the African Americans surveyed recounted receiving some form of racial discrimination, and nearly 5 percent suffered from GAD. Meanwhile, nearly 39 percent of Afro-Caribbean respondents said they received discrimination, and less than three percent developed GAD.
Whites who suffered from GAD in the study did so because of other forms of discrimination, head researcher Jose Soto, Ph.D. told PscyhCentral.com. For all races, non-racial discrimination counted as a source of GAD. Soto acknowledged that Afro-Caribbean respondents had less of a sensitivity to racial discrimination — perhaps a result of their different history. Even so, Soto said that people of the black diaspora entering unwelcoming environments endure stress that can become mental illness, similar to what soldiers face on the field.
“The results of our study suggest that the notion of racial battle fatigue could be a very real phenomenon that might explain how individuals can go from the experience of racism to the experience of a serious mental health disorder,” said Soto, head investigator at Pennsylvania State University. “While the term is certainly not trying to say that the conditions are exactly what soldiers face on a battlefield, it borrows from the idea that stress is created in chronically unsafe or hostile environments.”
Black people aren’t making it up. And given events like the most recent shooting of a black man, execution-style, by cops, it doesn’t look like this fatigue is likely to let up.