'New Amsterdam' Tackles the Health Risks That Come From Racism

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New Amsterdam continues to be the prime time medical show to push boundaries.

This week’s episode focused on Dr. Sharpe’s patient Cephas Fernandez, a 13-year-old Latinx boy who has developed tumors throughout his stomach. Although the tumors are benign, Sharpe informs both Cephas and his mother that the tumors formed because Cephas’ body has been producing high levels of cortisol: the body’s stress hormone.

Sharpe sends Cephas to Iggy for a psych evaluation in hopes of getting to the root of Cephas’ stress. After asking him a series of questions on social resistance, Iggy concludes that, even though Cephas doesn’t realize it, his body is internalizing all of the microaggressions and racism that he deals with on a daily basis. Which in turn, has caused his tumors.

For those who haven’t experienced racism, Cephas’ diagnosis may seem a little far fetched. But, over the years, medical research has found what black and brown communities have known for quite some time: that racism, whether unintentional or intentional, can have some damaging health effects on the body.

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In 2019, scientists from USC and UCLA studied a focus group of 71 people, with two-thirds of the group being African-American, while the rest were white. The scientists found that the African-American participants had higher levels of inflammatory molecules than the white subjects.

April Thames, an associate professor of psychology and psychiatry told Science Daily that the connection between discrimination and health isn’t exactly surprising.

“We know discrimination is linked to health outcomes, but no one was sure exactly how it harmed health. I looked at it as a chronic stressor. Our results showed that racial discrimination appears to trigger an inflammatory response among African Americans at the cellular level.”

And as the team of scientists took a deeper look at the results, they found that “racism may account for as much as 50 percent of the heightened inflammation among African Americans.”

If left untreated, chronic inflammation can lead to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and asthma.

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Another study by JAMA Pediatrics stated that, between the years of 2016 and 2017, teenagers who worried about discrimination had increased stress levels, just like Cephas.

According to the study,

“From the spring of 2016 to the spring of 2017 — a timespan coinciding with the 2016 presidential campaign and first several months of the Trump presidency — reported concern increased predominantly among Hispanic and African American students.”

Unfortunately, just like in the real world, Iggy can’t just code racism as the cause of Cephas’ illness, as it’s not seen as a “real” problem. So, Iggy takes matters into his own hands, knowing that even though he can’t fix the world’s racism, he can at least try to fix how Cephas handles it. By getting Cephas to realize that his anger and stress comes from the discrimination he’s receiving at school and in everyday life, his body might not internalize that stress.

When people internalize certain stressors, it’s hard to point out exactly what is plaguing them, but associations like The American Academy of Pediatrics want to ensure that doctors do the absolute most when it comes to finding out what is wrong with their patients.

In an AAP news report, the association said that “pediatricians are uniquely positioned to both prevent and mitigate the consequences of racism as a key and trusted source of support for pediatric patients and their families.”

It’s amazing that more doctors are finally treating racism as a cause of medical issues. And while it shouldn’t take a show to get people to realize the lasting effects that racism has on the body, we have to be thankful that New Amsterdam finally brought to light just how traumatic racism can be, not just for the mind, but for the body as well.


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Alysia Stevenson
Alysia Stevenson is a twenty-seven New York City transplant currently living in Florida with her boyfriend and three furbabies. When she's not writing, you can find her watching beauty tutorials on Youtube or Parks and Rec for the millionth time.