One of my first assignments as a reporter was to interview a cartoonist who lived on Chicago’s Gold Coast, a sliver of affluence set between Lake Michigan and a nasty housing project. Killing time before the interview, I stopped at a jeweler and asked the price of a watch in the window. The manager ducked into a storeroom and led out an enormous Doberman, straining at its leash. With a snarl that matched the dog’s, she said, ”Now, may I help you?” The cartoonist was not much better. She opened the door a crack then shut it in my face.
Many white readers will disbelieve these stories. Many others will see a case of ”rational discrimination” by women who had reason to fear damage from a black man. But to be presumed a criminal until proven otherwise is a punishing experience, one that even African-American millionaires know well. The axiom is that you make peace with the experience or lose your mind. But actually reaching peace seems not to be possible. New research suggests that stress related to discrimination may be just as potent a health risk as smoking or a high-fat diet — things that lead to premature death through cardiovascular disease.