The Bodily

Contexts are constitutive not only of psychological experiences but also of physical bodies (Riggs & Augoustinos, 2005); thus, the bodily can be used as an example of racism embedded in context. This analysis builds on two critical social psychologists’ assessment that “the body itself of course, along with questions of the psychology of embodiment—and questions of embodied racialized experience—deserves far greater attention within critical psychological perspectives on racism” (Hook & Howarth, 2005, pp. 509-510). Examinations of how racialized contexts are incorporated in “the bodily” might best be entered through a short discussion of evidence that psychological experiences of race and racism are embodied among Black Americans before discussing how privilege might be embodied among White Americans (see also Latimer, 2008, for further discussion of the body as “world-reflecting” and “world-building”). In other words, the racialized body reflects the context in which it is embedded, and that world affords a particular racialized experience because it also reflects the ideas and ideologies that maintain that world.

For instance, several researchers suggest that experiences of racism are life stressors that adversely affect Black Americans’ quality of life (e.g., Harrell, Hall, & Taliaferro, 2003; Schnittker & McLeod, 2005; Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996). This includes work linking self-reported experiences of racism to increased anxiety (Carter, 2007), blood pressure (Krieger & Sidney, 1996), higher rates of hypertension (e.g., Steffen, McNeilly, Anderson, & Sherwood, 2003), and decreased self-esteem (Landrine & Klonoff, 1996). In other words, many Black Americans’ experience of race is constituted by a context in which “being black” is stigmatized and devalued; thus, experiences of this devaluation is manifested through negative bodily consequences. Furthermore, physiological data suggests that the reluctance to recognize instances of racism is related to higher levels of blood pressure among persons experiencing racist events (Harrell et al., 2003). In other words, denial of racism and discrimination in one’s life compounds the trauma among Black Americans (Bryant-Davis, 2007; Caughy, O’Campo, & Mutaner, 2004; Daniel, 2000) and has negative implications for well-being (e.g., Neville, Coleman, Falconer, & Holmes, 2005). Together, these studies suggest that Black bodies reflect societal devaluation and when incorporated, this devaluation adversely affects their mental and physical health.

In turn, White Americans’ experience of race is constituted by a context in which “being white” is raceless and valued (Lipsitz, 2006). To the extent that contexts in which racism denial (incorporating devaluation) affords negative health consequences for Black Americans, the same incorporation of racism denial might afford freedom from these health consequences for White Americans. Therefore, a CRP perspective suggests White Americans profit (bodily and otherwise) from contexts in which racism denial is “desirable” and “being white” is normative. As such, contexts imbued with race- and racism-denying ideologies should afford positive health consequences to White Americans. To our knowledge, there is yet to be empirical research explicitly linking denial of racism with positive health benefits for Whites (we propose that this particular research agenda becomes evident primarily with a critical race analysis of health and privilege); however, there is some existing research supporting this idea. This possibility stems from three different areas of existing research: (1) research on the pervasive medical and mental health disparities in which White Americans are granted longer life expectancies (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2001), (2) the literature linking preferences for just world beliefs, colorblind ideology, and social dominance to various dimensions of modern racism (Knowles, Lowery, Hogan, & Chow, 2009; O’Brien & Major, 2005; Richeson & Nussbaum, 2004), and (3) lines of research linking just world beliefs to positive self-esteem (Lowery, Knowles, & Unzueta, 2007) and adaptive positive mental health outcomes (i.e., just world beliefs as a personal resource; Dalbert, 2001; Furnham, 2003; Otto, Glaser, & Dalbert, 2009). Cultural tools such as ideologies that minimize the impact of racism in the USA would not only confer social power to dominant groups but also afford the positive benefits of racialized health privileges for White Americans. On one hand, contexts affording race-neutral ideologies promote positive experiences of whiteness and better health outcomes. On the other hand, White American preferences for and deployment of ostensibly race-neutral ideologies (e.g., individual responsibility; Salter, Hirsh, Schlegel, & Thai, 2016) reflect contexts promoting positive bodily experiences of race (or racelessness, in this case) for Whites. Depositing these preferences back into the world further perpetuate their value and racialized privileges.

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