‘Under the Skin’ delves into systemic racism and its toll on health

Amna Nawaz:

Author Linda Villarosa puts it this way — quote — “At every stage of life, Blacks have poorer health outcomes than whites and in most cases than other ethnic groups.”

That is true whether we’re talking about maternal and infant health or cardiac disease, diabetes, or many other conditions.

Villarosa says that racism, both personal discrimination and structural racism, are at the heart of these problems and play a much bigger role than is generally acknowledged. It’s the focus of her new book, “Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation.”

And Linda Villarosa joins me now.

Linda, welcome back to the “NewsHour.” Thank you for joining us.

The book begins with a kind of this personal revelation. I mean, you have been reporting in this space for years, but even you say at the beginning of the book you came to realize what you believed about all these health disparities was wrong. What did you have wrong?

Linda Villarosa, Author, “Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation”: I think I grew up in a household of strivers.

And so we believed that personal responsibility was everything. So, if you just took good care of yourself, you would be fine, and if you just did everything right.

And then I ended up at “Essence” magazine as its health editor. And that was, we believed in self-health. We believed, if every Black person, every Black woman especially, took care of herself and the others around her, it would lift the health status of the race in general, Black Americans.

And no matter how hard we tried, that just wasn’t true. So it took a minute to say, wait, I need to shift my thinking.