African American males are at bigger risk for violence and chronic disease. University of Mississippi Science Director Dr. Bruce Marino has been studying African American health for decades. He discusses influential factors that are contributing to racial disparity in the United States and how we can overcome these obstacles. His insight will help you navigate conversations that educate and elevate in your own neighborhood and city.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- How race issues are woven into the fabric of our country.
- The ways race implicates financial resources.
- Why the way public goods are distributed matter.
- What “internalized racism” is.”
- The importance of education.
Read the transcript of the podcast below.
Karin: Welcome to R4R: Conversations that Educate and Elevate. I’m Karin Conlee and I am the Executive Director of Race for Reconciliation. And I am so glad that you have joined us for our latest episode. And I am so thrilled to welcome such an incredible man and great friend, Dr. Marino, Bruce. Dr. Bruce, thank you so much for joining us for this episode.
Marino: Thank you, and I’m honored to be here.
Karin: Well, our audience may not know you right now, but by the time we get done with these episodes, I know that they are going to be so grateful for what you bring to this organization. And Dr. Bruce, you have your PhD in sociology, two master’s degrees in both Divinity and MDiv, and also in rehabilitation counseling, if I can spit that out. And currently, he serves as the Science Director at OHD Pride at the University of Mississippi. Tell us a little bit about your current role. And just love to get to know you a little bit as we dive into some really important conversations.
Marino: Sure thing. Again, thank you for having me today. The work that I do, is largely focused on health, in particular health of African Americans, specifically. And I’ve come to that over a number of years, to be quite honest. I started out as a traditional sociologist, social scientists looking at violence among young African American males and that has evolved over time into looking at more general health outcomes among this group as they age.
So one of the things that often we see and have concerns about is that between the ages of, let’s say, 12, and 25, violence is a big risk factor for the health of young African American males. However, I began to see that after 25, chronic disease is right around the corner; we begin to see that African American males are more likely to have hypertension, they tend to have excess weight gain, which puts them at risk for a number of other chronic diseases such as kidney disease, heart disease, heart failure, and what have you. So I’ve been over the last now two decades, believe it or not, trying to find ways to improve the health and wellbeing of African American males in particular, as well as their families and communities in which they live and serve.
Karin: That is fantastic. And really, I’d love to hear…
…a little bit of your journey. You know, what brought you to this? What were the, whether they be advantages or disadvantages that you had growing up that would lead you to really have such a comprehensive education and understanding of racism of disparities? What led you down this path?
Marino: Well, it goes back, I grew up in a small rural area in Virginia, the name of the town is South Boston, Virginia, believe or not. And it’s a town that has history already back to the revolution. It’s a farming community or was a farming community with lighting industry. And I guess my first experience, sort of noticing differences regarding race had to do, I think was fourth fifth grade, when my best friend at the time was white, and I had a teacher come up to me and saying he can’t be your best friend. There’s no way he can be your best friend. And I’d never understood why a teacher would tell me that. And so I of course, I asked my mother about this and she didn’t talk about race explicitly. She talked to me in an age appropriate way, where some people have issues with people who are different being friends.
And what I didn’t know at the time is that my county, Halifax County, Virginia, was one of the last counties in Virginia to desegregate. So I was in a first class that was integrated from kindergarten all the way through high school. So I didn’t know that. So many of the teachers in my elementary school were not used to having black kids and so them seeing black kids and white kids being friends was a foreign concept to them. So I became aware of it and I don’t think it was particularly something unique. This was something that happened to a number of kids. But I became much more aware of it. I didn’t quite know what was going on.
And so as I got older, I began to have conversations with my father who would say, son, you can’t do the same things that your white friends did. You just can’t. And that struck me as unfair, harsh. I didn’t quite understand it. But it became more apparent as I matriculated through high school that they were clear differences and how I was treated, and how my classmates were treated. I was one of three or four kids in AP classes and those types…
…And just the experiences of when I had an answer to a question versus one of my classmates answers to a question, there was little encouragement with respect to being bookish or academically-minded, the response was quite different from me, and some of my African American classmates, and we began to talk about that.
And then there was the election. All of us decided to run for office, class officers, class presidents, vice presidents, and all of us ran a collective campaign, but only one of us won. And so when we challenge the results, the ballots disappeared. There was no way to do a recount. And we challenged the next day, they said, okay, there are no ballots. So it became very, very clear to us that race was an issue. And that wasn’t necessarily the forefront of my mind, I was trying to make sense of it in a way that a 16-17 year old can. I mean, this spilled over when I went to Davidson College, which is a small liberal arts college in Davidson, North Carolina, facing the same types of things. It was more overt, where some of my white classmates wouldn’t even speak to me and some of my other African Americans.
My first day on campus, I was ID by the police. Definitely, first day of campus coming out of the library with library of books that I had just checked out, I was totally by myself, but for some reason, this officer decided that I didn’t belong, and wanted to see who I was. And if I had the correct identification, establishing me as a Davidson College student. So there are many of these experiences going on. And I wanted to find out more about it. I wanted to investigate this, think about this, speak out about it, and to see if this had anything to do with some of the patterns I began to see in the mid to late 80s with respect to violence going on in more urban areas. The question that I had, does art imitate life or life imitate art, which is it?
And so that began a pursuit of looking at the impact of race, class, to some degree gender, and his impact on violent outcomes at the time, that’s expand it to look at health more generally. So I’ve been doing this for a long time and thinking about it. So it’s part of, I guess, who I am at this point?
Karin: Yeah. Well, okay. So as you’re talking, I’ve thought about like six other podcast topics that I want to ask you about it, about your daughter and how … her and in different seasons, all those things, but well, you might have to say, but other topics because you just open up so many different questions in my mind. You referenced Davidson and that’s obviously a great educational institution. They just wrote an article on you and some of your research that I was looking at in preparation for this interview. And I really want to pull up, I assume it’s a quote, I think it was quoted in the article, tell me if it’s not, and get your thoughts, because this is what it said in the article. “I wanted to understand how risky behavior can be a function of one’s environment, and how a person-environment interaction affects upward or limited mobility.”
Karin: And that’s obviously, it’s a lifetime worth of work in that sense…
Karin: But as we think about the Race for Reconciliation audience, as we’re wanting to come and educate people so that we can elevate all people and specifically where there’s been dishonor to bring honor, when there’s been inequality to bring the quality, those kinds of things. And so, again, I told you before we recorded, this is like eating an elephant, we’ll just take a bite at a time. But kind of in the overarching way, what have you seen to be the largest environmental factors that impact mobility for African Americans?
Marino: Oh, wow. Yeah.
Karin: That’s a big
Marino: So, yeah, it’s a big one. So what I would say is hearing the term, quite a bit terms of structural and institutional racism, and so that that’s a major term, but it needs to be unpacked a little bit. The way I would say is that issues of race are woven into the very fabric of this country. And what I mean by that, is at the time of the writing of the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence, African Americans were here, but they were not even considered human. Right? So even though they had arms and legs, they have brains, eyes, you know, like everyone else, the only difference was that they have a certain level of melanin in their skin which gave them a darker appearance. They were not considered human, they were considered property.
And from that very start, you have diverging trajectories, because families were impacted by that. Generations of folks were impacted by that so much so…
…that the way that communist intuitions that they revere, operate in a way that advantages one group over the other. For example, where people live, this is less so today, or less apparent today. But there are areas that if African Americans and other groups want to move into, it’s tough, it’s hard. All of a sudden, banks don’t want to provide loans, regardless of credit, folks are discouraged. home values. Even I mean, there was a recent article that came out where there was an African American who put their house on the market, there were pictures or whatever of their family within there, they lost 33% of the value of their home. So when they removed all of that and add another appraisal, it increased by 33%.
So now, the way we talk about the way that racism has been discussed has been much more of an individual talking about preference, or all of those types of issues, and those things are there. Okay. However, when we think about the ability to earn wages equal, you know, pay for equal work, we hear this in a gender context, which is those issues are still there. But we also deal with that on a racial context, as well.
So the idea of structural racism has real life implications to this day. The fact that I may earn less than, then why a colleague of mine doing the same work has implications for how the resources I’m able to provide to my children, the ability of our family to provide resources for subsequent generations, it’s quite different. For example, property in the south, my family who has been a part of Southern Virginia for at least four or five generations, that was a time where we had a large number of acres of property, but over the years through things such as not understanding tax codes and tax records…
…went from hundreds of acres down to maybe half an acre over time. So that’s a common, fairly common experience for families. So land is a way that’s something that can be transferred down the line. It’s a resource. But in many cases, African Americans and Native Americans in particular, Latinos, particularly in Texas, and New Mexico had their land stripped from them. And so with that, the resources, both the ability to raise food back in the day, earn income, all of that was gone. That has scars that leave impact for generations.
Much less this thing that we haven’t talked much about is “Internalized Racism”. What that is, is when I get messages from the world around me, the environment around me, such that I think that I’m less than, I don’t think my ideas are as good, I don’t think my contribution matters as much as or matters at all. And so that has implications for how I view myself and view others who look like me. So it’s pervasive. And it is the elephant in many rooms that people are discovering right now and not knowing what to do with. However, it’s going to take some frank discussions, it’s going to take some creativity, and it’s going to take a willingness, from those who are committed to this effort to thinking this thing through. And being committed, it’s not something that’s going to be solved overnight, but it’s something that is solvable, it’s a matter of if we have the will and a commitment to do so.
Karin: Marino, as you say that that whole identity piece, the internalized racism, like you said, that’s a whole other realms of this that is vital as well. I’m marking I hope you’re available for another podcast?
Marino: Sure. Sure.
Karin: That whole identity piece for anybody is important. And when you talk about it in that context of internalized racism, it does, it can take on a life of its own.
Karin: And so one of the things as an organization, as we say, you know, we want to be the most positive unifying voice on racial reconciliation…
…at the same time knowing there are some hard conversations, that to be positive doesn’t mean to not be honest and so to be able to do that. And so as you’ve mentioned, kind of the structural and systemic racism, those are some things that I think as a majority white audience sometimes looks at what you described as the relational aspect of racism to say Dr. Bruce, I don’t look at you as anybody different than me. And when people look at a black child, and a black baby and a white baby in 2020, the vast majority of reasonable people would say they are created equal, they are they are identical, that may not have happened a couple generations ago, but would happen now.
But as a scientist, you’re measuring things. This is not conjecture. This is not speculation, where a lot of us that have a heart for this live. It’s more story-related, but you’re actually measuring things that can do that. What are the things that you have discovered and identified in your research that maybe a majority white audience would be like, wow, I’d had no idea that that really is whether that be and I know, the next one we’re going to kind of talk about health specifically?
Karin: But are there other things that you would say that in the world of us as an organization wanting to be light and wanting to educate all people so that we can elevate those that have been disadvantaged and bring honor to them and look at a future that’s different, what would be those things that you would say, you know what, if people were in my seat and do the research that I’ve done, anybody with a half a cent of brain would be like, wow, this is what worth measuring out there, is there anything that comes to your mind that would be helpful in that education process?
Marino: Sure. It’s interesting, you say education. Because one of the key areas, to be quite honest, are public goods, in terms of how public goods are distributed. So in a given city, right, look, who lives near an airport, for example, right? Or if you know where trash is dumped, right, pay attention who lives there. Okay. And one can ask themselves, okay, why do we see these distributions like that?
And it’s interesting, you mentioned education. There’s a vast disparities in terms of public schools, and what they offer, and what they’re able to offer. It’s not that teachers want to have students not succeed. I don’t believe that. I do think, however, that teachers are handcuffed in terms of whatever resources their schools and school systems are able to provide.
I’m in Mississippi right now. They are our school systems in some of the poorer areas that don’t have current textbooks. I mean, that’s an easy area to look at when you can compare students who go to public schools in what we classify as prominent areas versus those who don’t. We often, in these differences can seem subtle. But when we think back to Brown decision, okay, Brown versus the Board of Education decision, where there was clear desegregation, or clear segregation at that time, one of the key components of that was that African American schools they had a modest, and I’ve been trying to be nice about it, but modest set of resources to be able to educate folks.
So having schools versus one room schools, so that’s an easy disparity to see, well, now, kids can go to, you know, we have public schools and kids can share public schools. Well, that’s not necessarily so. There’s still until there’s clear equity and access to quality education, and then when I mean, quality education, that means the education that’s available to the best students, however, you define that, as long as we have that disparity, we’re going to see this this disparity and outcomes, because it matters.
I mean, we know that having kids that are in college, and in my case, graduated from college, where those early years matter. The courses so when we think about being able to apply for colleges, your transcript is evaluated in terms of what classes you took, well, if AP courses aren’t available.
A person coming from a school that didn’t have AP classes or a number of them are not going to be as competitive. They may be just as bright, but on paper, they’re not going to be as competitive. So it’s looking at those things that we classify as public good, and how those things are distributed. And in the work that I do you see that there’s clear inequities in terms of how public goods are distributed, whether it’s public schools, if it’s healthcare, if it’s policing, those things are very distinct. And it’s not necessarily city to city, it’s within a city or within a county where you see those differences.
Karin: Well, Dr. Bruce, this has been just a really helpful conversation and I am looking forward, we’re going to really tackle the health disparities and even the question of, okay, people say that COVID is affecting African Americans more, and I’ll have people in the majority white culture like, it’s not discriminating between color, how can you say that? So that’s a question that needs to be answered. And I know that we have one. But I want to pick up in our second podcast and tackle that subject.
But just so grateful for you, if people have questions, or want access to your research or anything of that nature, is there a way that they would be able to reach out to you or be able to follow up on any of the things that you’ve mentioned?
Marino: Sure. Sure. The easiest way to reach me as is my email, and that’s email@example.com. Very simple. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And I’d be more than happy to see emails and address questions, and then we could use that if we want to have time to talk in groups or what have you, be more than happy to set that up.
Karin: Great. Great. Well, Dr. Bruce, thank you so much. And thank you for joining us for this episode of R4R. If you want more information on Race for Reconciliation, go to raceforreconciliation.org and we’ll look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.