Immigrant Racialization and Health Talk Sheds Light on Nuanced Race Dynamics

health talkPresentation about the talk by Dr. Jay Pearson of Duke University | Gabriela Danger, PantherNOW

Gabriela Danger | Staff Writer

Issues of systemic racism and how it affects major institutions in the United States are a constantly evolving and dynamic topic. How structures within the US push against people of color is now more often being noticed by the American population. Health is one field that is no exception to this. 

Sociologist Dr. Jay Pearson of the Sanford School of Public Relations at Duke University came to FIU to talk about this phenomenon and how it affects immigrants coming to the US, specifically in the health field, on Feb. 16. 

Many of the findings discussed in the talk are from his research and papers

Pearson expressed to the audience how he was both Black and Indigenous American, raised in rural North Carolina. He also spent some time in the Peace Corps in Honduras, learning Spanish and becoming close to Latin culture. 

This is to say that his experience in these spaces spurred his research into the topic of health among different racial minority groups depending if they were immigrants to the US, not from there at all, or born there. 

“You know, there’s a point of this, and it is that these combined experiences, this multiple dynamic identity construction processes where race, ethnicity, and national origin have interacted in compelling ways, and implications for opportunity structures, distributed the resources and risk and the different places where I lived,” Pearson said when discussing the relationship of his identity with his research.

He went on to state the main point of his research, 

“These resources and risks, these opportunity structures, absolutely show up in conventional ways; as in the value of formal education, what kind of job that you get, but also in some unconventional ways,” he said. 

“The value of social cultural orientations and important resources associated with folks recognizing you, embracing you, recognizing you, and choosing not to embrace you; welcoming you, or rejecting you. That matters, not just in the formal sense.”

Pearson went on to show the audience multiple graphs and data sets that illustrated his point. They considered different things, for example, the number of years of education, the income, the sex, and the racial group of the people whose health they were measuring. 

It was clear through these studies that the longer time subjects spent in this country after immigrating here, the more likely they were to report they were doing poorly concerning health. 

Pearson, his colleagues, and even some of the audience members attributed this trend in the research to racial distress bubbling in the minds of all of these individuals. They were always showing increased signs of stress, possibly because of the pressure of being a person of color in the States. 

Such a distressor is also evident when birth rates are looked at. 

In some cases, it didn’t matter how much education or money these people were receiving, their birth rates or rates of positive health were simply never like the (typically) higher rates seen in white subjects. 

This was the point Pearson set out to show.

“So what I argue is that part of this is the hope of the United States of America and coming here, that folks are gambling to go (here), and it’s a dream. The dream narrative,” he said. 

But possibly the most important part of his talk is the emphasis on lived experiences in sociological studies. 

“What I’m saying is, if you don’t understand the value of trying to account for the lived experiences, as folks whose social identities are constructed and imposed upon gauging the institutions that regulate access to the resources or exposure to the risk, you’re missing part of the story.”

“The effort to dismantle this fundamentally dehumanizing thing is viewed as being un-American,” he repeated. 

The life experiences of these racial groups are paramount to conducting sociological research into the subject area of health and getting an accurate sense of it. 

Getting firsthand information and testament from people who are affected by this phenomenon is just as important as traditional research methods when looking into these issues, as Pearson explained. 

Pearson’s research is meant to show how important understanding and listening to the stories of people of color can be when dismantling structural and systemic racism in the US. 

“Efforts to acknowledge the history of racism in the United States of America and then to move towards deconstructing it and dismantling it are viewed as being un-American. Read the literature, read the accounts, think about that.”

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