Each year, the UE Honors Program students are assigned a common read to engage with throughout the semester. This year, students had the opportunity to read Linda Villarosa’s Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation. Villarosa is an American author and journalist who began her career working for Essence Magazine. Today, she writes for The New York Times, and is a professor at the City University of New York where she teaches “journalism, medicine and Black Studies,” (Villarosa).
On October 24th, Linda Villarosa traveled to the university to discuss her book in-person with students and faculty here at UE. During this time, she spoke about the motivation behind the writing of her book. Villarosa revealed that “[her] work is motivated by anger.” Her anger stems from the societal issues she, and others, have been witness to throughout their lives.
In her book, Villarosa explores the inconsistencies concerning the life-expectancy and birth-rates of Black Americans. She reports that, in comparison to their white counterparts, there are 3,000 – 4,000 more black babies that die each year. Additionally, life-expectancy is at its lowest where there is a high concentration of Black Americans. Concerned with these disparities, Villarosa set out to determine the underlying cause of the issue. Her first priority was to address the misconceptions and inaccurate assumptions that have previously been presented. For example, it is assumed that poverty/lack of education plays the largest factor in these disparities. However, Villarosa explains that a black woman with a college education is more likely to die during childbirth than a white woman with only a high school diploma. The second misconception she addressed is the belief that there are genetic differences that contribute to the lower life-expectancy of Black Americans. Villarosa informed the audience that these inaccurate beliefs stem from the years of slavery, when African Americans were faced with abuse, and white Americans justified their actions by promoting the myth that black skin is thicker, and that African Americans have “a higher pain tolerance.” Sadly, these myths continue to be discussed today and lead to the systematic, under-treatment of Black Americans concerning healthcare. After drawing attention to, and disproving these misconceptions, Villarosa presented her theory for the reasons behind the disparities she earlier mentioned. She states, “something about living in America is bad for black mothers and babies.” She uses the term “weathering,” when referring to this idea. Weathering is a concept that was introduced by Dr. Arline Geronimus, and it is defined as the result of prolonged exposure to stress. Villarosa states that this stress is a result of the life-long maltreatment that black men and women face.
To learn more about weathering and its effects on the lives of Black Americans, purchase a copy of Linda Villarosa’s Under the Skin. Education and awareness are the first steps towards reconstructing the systems that harm the lives of African Americans. Discussing the ideas presented by Villarosa are ways in which you can make a difference.