It goes like this. On her walk to work, a driver wolf-whistles at her. She sits in a meeting and gets interrupted when she speaks. She is also told, with a hint of surprise, that she’s pretty articulate. She vents on social media and is told by strangers to go back to the kitchen. She frowns at this—and is told to smile more.
These little hits of everyday discrimination are the daily realities for many women and people of color, says Danielle Beatty Moody, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. They are indignities so ostensibly subtle that people who don’t experience them firsthand often think nothing of them. But these slivers of “disdain, distance, and disrespect” add up, over days and years: “It’s like a thousand tiny cuts,” Beatty Moody says.
In a new study, she and her colleagues have found more evidence that these psychological cuts have real physiological consequences. As first reported by the journalist Emily Willingham, the team studied a racially diverse group of 2,180 American women and found that those who regularly experienced everyday discrimination ended up with higher blood pressure a decade later.
There’s already a large body of work that links everyday discrimination—racism, mainly—to a variety of mental and physical health problems, including disturbed sleep, unhealthy weight, and cardiovascular symptoms. But many of these studies are cross-sectional—that is, they compare people’s current experiences with their current health. They can’t say if the former caused the latter, because they are just momentary snapshots. To get stronger evidence, researchers need prospective studies, which track the health of volunteers over time.