Racism Makes People Sick: The Legacy of Clark & Clark

Today in “Exile, Exodus, and Zion,” we talked about the rise of Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson. We argued that, as was the case with chattel slavery,  Jim Crow–and the legal and extralegal violence that propped it up–were experienced as forms of exile; exile from one’s own nation, one’s own rights, one’s own self.

Of course, Jim Crow killed people, too. But even if African-American citizens weren’t direct victims of violence–rhetorical or embodied–all felt its pernicious effects.

Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark, and their decades of study of the effects of segregation on America’s youngest children, made that absolutely clear. Their work, of course, formed a critical plank in the argument that Thurgood Marshall and others used in their legal challenges to “separate but equal,” which eventually led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. 

It was Mamie Clark’s master’s thesis, “The Development of Consciousness in Negro Pre-School Children,” that first utilized the “doll test” upon which so much of the Clarks’ findings were based.

My wonderfully astute students connected the Clarks’ work with the emerging science finding that, even when educational, healthcare access, and region, are accounted for, racism itself is literally making black Americans sick and leading to pre-mature deaths.

See David R. Williams’ Ted Talk on his groundbreaking research, which includes, among other eye-popping findings, that “whites with a high school diploma live longer than blacks with a college degree or more education.”

Thank you to Drs. Clark for your critical work.

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