Biological Weathering and Its Deadly Effect on Black Mothers

On the devastating stress of racism.


By Patia Braithwaite,

Imagine for a moment that you’re a very silly 22-year-old driving through Florida sometime around 2009. You’re speeding down a road called Alligator Alley at approximately 92 miles an hour, which is about 20 miles above the speed limit. It’s late. Maybe the windows are down. Maybe the music is blaring. Maybe you’re singing off-key. You’re basically living your best life until police lights appear behind you, and you remember you’re not in a coming-of-age film. You’re a black woman driving alone in the middle of the night. In the South.

This is how I die, you think, as a stoic police officer takes your license and registration from your shaking hand. The police killing of Michael Brown that thrust Black Lives Matter into the national spotlight hadn’t happened yet. But you grew up hearing about Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo, Brown’s forefathers on the list of black people killed by police, his companions in this traumatic, helpless club. You know how dangerous this can be.

The police officer walks away. After what feels like an eternity, he returns.

“For the love of God,” he hisses, handing you back your information. “You really need to slow down…”

I was that 22-year-old who thought she was going to die in the middle of the night on a Florida road. I know very well the visceral fear that comes from premature death being an acceptable hazard of the black American experience. I understand what it means for racism to be such a fact of everyday life that my first thought when I got pulled over wasn’t “I hope I don’t get a ticket” but “I hope I make it through this alive.”

The term “weathering” describes how the constant stress of racism may lead to premature biological aging and poor health outcomes for black people, like disproportionately high death rates from chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and most cancers.

Mental anguish and stress from “fighting against larger structures and systems can have an impact on your health,” Joia Crear-Perry, M.D., founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, tells SELF. This, in a nutshell, is weathering.

Weathering plays a significant and intriguing role in conversations about black maternal mortality, a public health crisis based around the fact that black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women in the United States…

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