Tag Archives: sleep study

Racism: It’s How We Sleep at Night

The New York Times recently published a report on new findings linking race to quality of sleep (or lack thereof) called “How Well You Sleep May Hinge on Race.” The ‘you’ in this sentence refers specifically to white folks, and how well our white privilege allows us to sleep. There is extensive investigation into race in this article, but only in terms of POC. There is no mention of white privilege, or the racial meaning behind the solid sleep the majority of white folks enjoy. The largest mystery remains the reasons for sleep inequality along lines of race, which simply demonstrates how the mainstream media is well prepared and armed with “facts” when it comes to race while being conveniently clueless and mystified when it comes to racism.

Beginning with a big booming knowledge drop, the article introduces one individual under study, Moleendo Stewart, by saying “Sleep experts would point to another factor working against Mr. Stewart: He is a black man.” Oh.. so it sounds like this is his problem. It sounds like the claim is: he’s Black so he doesn’t sleep well, not he’s a Black man struggling in a racist society so he doesn’t sleep well. While this team of tireless professionals has come to the conclusion that “sleep is not colorblind,” they have not discovered why. With all of their “unique” material on the correlation between race and sleep, they still can’t understand their findings and are without explanation. Well, team of professionals, fret no further. We don’t need to spend years in a lab with our white coats to find the answer. It comes down to one simple word: RACISM.

Although researches haven’t yet “unlocked the secret” behind this phenomenon, they have a promising lead: freeway noise. Yes, they actually site this shit as legitimate data in potentially harming sleep for POC. The NYT doesn’t get a big pat on the back for initially giving mention to segregated neighborhoods, because there is no in-depth analysis of the white supremacy and institutional racism behind housing segregation that follows. There is no context, no historical perspective, and no social understanding. First of all, segregated neighborhoods don’t spring up under freeways, freeways are built over and through them. And second of all, even though it is common for this kind of noise to be in low-income neighborhoods, it’s an extremely small factor compared to the much bigger reasons why POC are losing sleep. Despite how inconclusive this article claims to be, it desperately wants to make class the ideal source of sleep deprivation.

“The idea that differences in work and living conditions can explain the racial sleep disparities is a popular one among sleep experts.” Any guess as to why this might be? It is completely unsurprising that “science” would favor a class analysis over a racial one. It is much easier for white folks to blame class status as the reason for social inequality because it allows us to pretend racism does not exist.  It is a comforting idea to believe socioeconomics are more relevant than race–an idea that suits and exposes white privilege–because it means we are no longer accountable for racial inequality in this equation. This shifts the focus of our reality as oppressors to the myth of POC as poor workers, thereby making it easier to argue that POC are responsible for their own class status and we are not responsible for the material consequences of racism.  Clearly racism is the cause, but nobody in this article wants to explicitly say so.

“We had no way to control for stress, and there are social stresses an African-American man might feel that a white man with the same income and education level wouldn’t.” In this instance, the word ‘stress’ is a euphemism for racism. Here we are with a perfect comparative example that throws class out the window, and we still can’t say: IT’S RACISM, STUPID.  Even with this kind of evidence, two men with different racial identities who possess the same shit, we can’t admit what is actually going on. We can’t admit that class doesn’t matter and racism doesn’t sleep. How about investigating that, team of professionals? When class status fails to fit their scientific model, another false culprit must be uncovered.

“It may also be the culture. Black and [Latin@] children in America are far less likely to have regularly enforced bedtimes than white children, according to a 2010 study conducted by Dr. Hale for the National Institutes of Health.” This argument is otherwise known as something called cultural racism, where “culture” is scapegoated for any number of bogus claims about POC instead of skin color. Once again, this article is suggesting the problem is with POC, not with institutional racism or white supremacy. The whole corporate time model, whip cracking schedule, and “properly enforced” timing for every behavior is very much a thing of whiteness. POC are not losing sleep because they don’t act like white folks or have an identical approach to their lives. Furthermore, they aren’t all children, so that piece of trivia isn’t worth much.

And now, a laughable closing statement: “In order to break the cycle, researchers say, patients need to make sleep a priority.” Well that’s a helluva lot easier than dismantling racism isn’t it? And it’s a much nicer white fantasy to educate POC about their “priorities” instead of educating white folks about their racism. White folks don’t sleep better because we make it a priority, we sleep better because we are safe from racial violence and oppression, because we are racially privileged, and because we never deal with racism of any kind. POC don’t need different priorities, we do.


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