The current study examined whether knowledge, understanding and support of the Black Lives Matter movement were positively linked to self-reported physical health among a representative sample of Black American adults.
The 2016 Collaborative Multiracial Post-election Survey (CMPS) examined attitudes about the 2016 US election, immigration, policing, racial equality, and racial discrimination among Asian American, Black American, Latinx, and White adults. The current study used the Black American sample, which included 3102 individuals (69% female) older than 18 years of age. We used a set of logistic regression models to assess the associations of knowledge, support, and understanding of Black Lives Matter with overall physical health.
Although knowledge of Black Lives Matter was not a significant predictor for physical health, understanding and supporting Black Lives Matter significantly predicted positive physical health among Black American adults.
Black American adults who understand and support Black Lives Matter reported more positive overall physical health.
Black Lives Matter is a political movement that has significant health implications, including mental and physical health. In response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer in 2013, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi created a watershed movement, Black Lives Matter [1, 2]. “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression” . Black Lives Matter addresses the experiences of marginalized Black people including “Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum” . Black Lives Matter purposes to rebuild the Black liberation movement in the face of patriarchy, exploitative capitalism, militarism, and white supremacy in domestic and global contexts . Black Lives Matter seeks to disrupt the oppression that Black people encounter at macro and micro levels through affirmation and intervention . Consequently, a growing number of academic disciplines are expressing support and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement [4,5,6], including public health given that antiracism work and reducing health disparities caused by structural racism is a core value and goal [7, 8]. A recent commentary in the American Journal of Public Health called on public health practitioners to support the principles of the Black Lives Matter movement by recognizing the role of structural racism in health disparities . Yet, little is known about the psychological and health consequences of Black Americans supporting and participating in social justice movements like Black Lives Matter. The term “Black American” refers to individuals of African descent in the USA including the descendants of enslaved Africans, Caribbean Blacks and their descendants, and African immigrants and their descendants. Is support for Black Lives Matter linked to positive health outcomes among Black American people?
The necessity of Black Lives Matter became evident with increasing numbers of Black Americans who have been killed by police officers. In fact, Black men are at higher risk for police-involved death compared with White men . Between January 2013 and December 2016, the average amount of Black individuals killed by police officers increased . In 2017, police officers killed 1147 people and Black individuals comprised 25% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population . Black individuals were more likely to be unarmed and less likely to be threatening someone when killed . Yet, police officers were charged with a crime in a fraction of all cases (1%) despite the fact that most killings occurred after police officers responded to non-violent offenses such as traffic violations . Though Black Lives Matter was started in 2013, the movement became ubiquitous on social media platforms after the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 . Thus, Black Lives Matter transitioned to a mass liberation movement in the post-Ferguson era .
Given the prevalence of Black individuals being killed by police officers, there is widespread support for Black Lives Matter among Black American adults. According to the Pew Research Center, 65% of Black American adults supported Black Lives Matter in 2016  and 82% of Black American adults supported Black Lives Matter in 2017 . There is also strong support and involvement among Black American college students such that the majority (e.g., 65%) were involved with Black Lives Matter through online and/or offline activities . Black American college students involved with Black Lives Matter were also more likely to be engaged in other political activities . Support and participation in social justice movements like Black Lives Matter has significant psychological and physical health implications for Black Americans. Studies using broader measures of Black activism, or broader critical actions addressing racial inequity with a focus on Black racial justice, have been associated with greater perceived racial discrimination and racial identity among Black American queer youth , Black American adolescents and emerging adults , and Black American adults .
Although empirical studies are limited, scholars have theorized social justice activism as an important, adaptive coping response with positive health implications for people of color—counteracting the vulnerability and stress of racism while bolstering feelings of sociopolitical control and efficacy [18,19,20]. Prior research illustrated that civic activity and political activism have been linked to positive mental health. One study examined the relation between political activism and mental health indicators among Black American college students. Political activism was defined as meaningful action toward systematic change addressing social justice issues . Political activism was negatively related to stress, and unrelated to anxiety or depressive symptoms . Thus, Black American college students who were more politically active reported less stress at the end of their freshman year . In another study, activism demonstrated a positive association with health, including lower psychological distress, suicidal ideation, and increased physical health among a large, racially diverse sample of LGBTQ/Gender Expansive youth in the USA . Although these studies examined general political activism rather than specific involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement, the results suggested positive effects on mental health as a result of engaging with social justice movements.
There is a dearth of research examining political activism, civic engagement, or civic activities with physical health indicators. A recent review evaluated the health benefits of community engagement, and the results indicated that the majority of individuals who participated in community engagement programs experienced physical health benefits such as improved physical fitness, healthier nutrition, and reduced cigarette and alcohol consumption . One study reported that Black and Latino youth who engaged in higher levels of civic activity (e.g., individual and collective activities intended to enhance the well-being of one’s community and the society) during adolescence reported higher levels of future optimism and life satisfaction, and greater participation in civic activities as adults . Another study indicated that a civic engagement pilot study was effective at behavioral and health changes among Black American adult women. Civic engagement was defined as “individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern” (p. 2) . It was anticipated that the experimental group engaging in civic engagement would evidence self-regulation and self-efficacy, which would be linked with healthier behaviors and physical activity . The results indicated that the daily intake of fruits and vegetables increased, the daily intake of sodium decreased, physical activity increased, and there were changes in systolic blood pressure among participants in the intervention . Though sparse, prior research suggested that activism or civic engagement resulted in physical health benefit for adults.
The Present Study
Despite calls for more research on Black Lives Matter [4,5,6,7,8], empirical research understanding the positive effects of the Black Lives Matter movement remains sparse, particularly in public health research. The current study adds to burgeoning literature examining political activism among Black American adults with a specific focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. The present study examined whether knowledge, understanding, and support of Black Lives Matter were linked to physical health among a representative sample of Black American adults. Knowledge refers to whether participants were familiar with the movement, understanding refers to whether participants understood the goals of the movement, and support refers to whether participants supported the goals of the movement. Specifically, we examined whether knowledge, understanding, and support of the Black Lives Matter movement predicted better physical health. As of this writing, this is the first empirical study to examine the physical health implications of the Black Lives Matter movement. Furthermore, the current study examines knowledge, understanding, and support of the Black Lives Matter movement as opposed to just examining support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
We utilized the Black American sample from the 2016 Collaborative Multiracial Post-election Survey (CMPS), which examined attitudes about the 2016 US election, immigration, policing, racial equality, and racial discrimination experiences among Asian American, Black American, Latinx, and White adults [26, 27]. To date, CMPS is the only nationally representative survey which includes detailed information about knowledge, understanding, and support of the Black Lives Movement and health indicators. The total CMPS sample included 10,145 adults over the age of 18 living in the USA [26, 27]. The goal of the CMPS was to examine within-group and between-group comparisons among Black Americans, Latinxs, and Asian American adults . CMPS utilized listed and density-sampling sources, while stratifying on specific demographic characteristics to ensure representative samples . Sampling vendors with minority data sets were contracted to provide lists of potential participants based on name, residence in high ethnic/racial density areas, and email addresses . The second approach utilized a random-recruit-to-web strategy, which uses official files of registered voters with email addresses [27, 28]. The final lists included millions of email addresses, which were sorted and stratified by race/ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic status . A total of 298,159 email addresses were selected and sent invitations to participate in the survey, and 29,489 people began completing the survey for a response rate of 9.9% . A total of 10,145 adults completed the self-administered surveys, which were collected online between December 2016 and February 2017 . The survey was available in multiple languages including English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean . The average survey completion time was 43 min, and respondents were compensated with $10 or $20 gift cards .
We included three key variables on the Black Lives Matter movement. Knowledge of Black Lives Matter is a single item, which asked: “How much, if anything, have you heard about the Black Lives Matter movement?” Participants responded to a four-point Likert scale with responses including 0 (nothing at all), 1 (a little), 2 (some), and 3 (a lot). High scores indicated greater knowledge of Black Lives Matter. Understanding Black Lives Matter is a single item which asked: “How well do you feel you understand the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement?” Participants responded to a four-point Likert scale with responses including 0 (not at all), 1 (not too well), 2 (fairly well), and 3 (very well). High scores indicated greater understanding of Black Lives Matter. Support Black Lives Matter is a single item which asked: “From what you have heard about the Black Lives Matter movement, do you support the Black Lives Matter movement activism?” Participants responded to a five-point Likert scale with responses including 0 (strongly oppose), 1 (somewhat oppose), 2 (neither), 3 (somewhat support), and 4 (strongly support). High scores indicated greater support of Black Lives Matter.
The dependent variable is overall self-rated physical health taken from a single item, which asked: “How would you rate your overall physical health at the present time? Would you say it is excellent, very good, good, fair or poor?” Participants responded to a five-point Likert scale with responses including 1 (poor), 2 (fair), 3 (good), 4 (very good), and 5 (excellent). This variable was dichotomized such that 0 indicated poor health (e.g., if indicated poor, fair or good) and 1 indicated optimal health (e.g., if indicated very good or excellent).
We included several sociodemographic variables. Female is coded 1 if it indicated female. Age is a continuous variable in years. A set of dichotomous variables are included to reflect four distinct generations: Greatest Generation includes individuals born prior to 1945 (e.g., 72 years and older at the time of the survey), Baby Boomers are individuals born between 1945 and 1963 (e.g., 53 to 71 years), Generation X includes individuals born between 1964 and 1978 (e.g., 38 to 52 years) and serves as the reference group, and Millennials are individuals born after 1979 (e.g., 37 to 18 years). Foreign-born is a dichotomous variable indicating whether the individual was born outside of the USA (e.g., 1 if foreign born). A set of dichotomous variables are included to measure religious affiliation (e.g., 1 if Christion; 0 if not Christian), education (e.g., 1 if college and beyond; 0 if less than college), employed (e.g., 1 if employed full time), and marital status (e.g., 1 if married). We also included information on sexual orientation, household income, political views, and political party affiliation. Non-heterosexual orientation is a dichotomous variable where 1 indicates non-heterosexual orientation. A set of six dichotomous variables are included for household income: less than $20,000; $20,000 to $39,999; $40,000 to $59,999; $60,000 to $79,999; $80,000 to $99,999; and $100,000 and more. We included four dichotomous variables for political party affiliations: Republican, Democrat, Independent, and Other Party. Three dichotomous variables reflect political views: Liberal, Moderate with Conservative serving as the reference group.
There was no missing data for the key variables and control variables. We used appropriate weights to account for the complex survey sample design, and ran a set of logistic regression models using STATA 14. To obtain sample weights, the full data are weighted within each racial group to match the adult population in the 2015 Census American Community Survey (ACS) 1-year data file for age, gender, education, nativity, ancestry, and voter registration status. A post-stratification ranking algorithm was used to balance each category within ± 1% of the ACS estimates. It is very important that each racial group sample is weighted independently so that it matches the census estimates for the specific group, not the sample as a whole. Notably, our sampling methods yielded a fairly representative sample geographically, decreasing the need for costly oversamples, allowing researchers to analyze a large national multiracial sample of both registered and non-registered voters.
Table 1 includes the descriptive statistics of all variables. The Black American sample included 3102 individuals (69% female) ranging in age from 18 to 98 (M = 42; SD = 15) and 6% of the sample was born outside of the USA. The majority of the sample (81%) indicated that they were in good health. Educational levels included less than a high school diploma (15%), high school diploma (32%), some college or an associate’s degree (33%), a bachelor’s degree (13%), and a graduate degree (7%). The participants reported their marital status as single (47%), cohabitating (10%), married (30%), divorced (10%), and widowed (3%). The participants reported their employment status as full-time (34%), part-time (12%), full-time student (8%), retired (19%), unemployed (20%), and homemaker (7%). Participants reported the following religious affiliations: Christian (62%), Catholic (6%), None (17%), and Other (15%). The participants reported the following sexual orientations: heterosexual (90%), gay/lesbian (4%), bisexual (3%), and other (3%). Less than half of the sample indicated that they had a lot of knowledge of Black Lives Matter (48.3%) and strongly supported Black Lives Matter (41.1%). Approximately 44.4% of the sample indicated that they understood Black Lives Matter “fairly well” while 32.8% indicated that they understood Black Lives Matter “very well.” Although Millennials were more likely to have knowledge of and support Black Lives Matter, Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation were more likely to support Black Lives Matter.
Several demographic variables predicted an increased likelihood of good physical health (see Table 2). Being in the Millennial birth cohort (OR = 2.7), being Christian (OR = 1.3), being employed full-time (OR = 1.9), being non-heterosexual (OR = 1.7), being liberal (OR = 1.6), and being moderate (OR = 2.3) were significant predictors of good health. African American adults who had household incomes less than $20 K (OR = .42) and household incomes between $20 K and $39,999 K (OR = .50) had a decreased likelihood of having good health.
Logistic regression analyses examined the impact of knowledge, understanding, and support of Black Lives Matter on overall health after controlling for key demographic characteristics. Knowledge of Black Lives Matter was a significant predictor (OR = 1.3) for good health when examined independently, but was not a significant predictor (OR = 1.1) for good health when examined with understanding and support of Black Lives Matter. Understanding the goals of Black Lives Matter was a significant predictor of good health when examined independently (OR = 1.3) and when examined with knowledge and support of Black Lives Matter (OR = 1.2). Similarly, supporting Black Lives Matter was a significant predictor of good health when examined independently (OR = 1.2) and when examined with knowledge and understanding Black Lives Matter (OR = 1.1).
The present study examined the health implications of knowledge, support, and understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement among a representative sample of Black American adults. The results indicate that less than half of Black American adults possess knowledge of Black Lives Matter, understood the goals of Black Lives Matter, and supported Black Lives Matter. Black American adults who understood the goals of Black Lives Matter reported improved physical health, and Black American adults who supported the goals of Black Lives Matter also reported positive physical health. Thus, understanding and supporting the ubiquitous movement, Black Lives Matter, were positively linked to physical health among a representative sample of Black American adults.
Knowledge of the Black Lives Matter movement was not related to physical health when support and understanding was accounted for. One possibility for the differential effect may be that support and understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement are akin to high levels of critical consciousness [29, 30]. Critical consciousness describes the process by which oppressed individuals critically reflect on their social and economic conditions, and subsequently engage in actions to improve their conditions . Thus, understanding the need for BLM requires an understanding of the racialized history of Black Americans in the USA. Similarly, supporting BLM suggests an understanding of the need for BLM to rectify current circumstances that impact Black Americans as a result of historical conditions. These conceptualizations may be more in-depth than simply knowing about BLM, which may explain the lack of significance in the context of support and understanding the Black Lives Matter movement.
The primary implication of the current results is that support and understanding the movement, Black Lives Matter, has positive health benefits for Black American adults. These findings are consistent with prior empirical research indicating physical health benefits as a result of civic or community engagement. For example, community engagement was linked to improved physical fitness, healthier nutrition, and reduced cigarette and alcohol consumption  whereas civic engagement was linked with an increased daily intake of fruits and vegetables, a decreased daily intake of sodium, increased physical activity, and blood pressure changes . The results are also consistent with prior research suggesting that social justice activism serves as a coping response for marginalized groups increasing their self-confidence and sociopolitical control and efficacy [18,19,20], with positive associations with mental health outcomes [21, 22]. Moreover, Black Lives Matter was intended to be an affirmation for Black American individuals who are systematically targeted for demise . Alicia Garza wrote that Black Lives Matter was an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression . The fact that support for and understanding Black Lives Matter are linked to overall positive physical health indicators indicates that the effects are consistent with the stated intention of the movement. Future research should examine the mechanisms by which Black Lives Matter is linked to health indicators, and whether knowledge, support, and understanding Black Lives Matter are positively linked to mental health, physical health, and health-related behaviors.
There are a few limitations in the present study. The cross-sectional nature of the study prevents causality from being inferred. We cannot assert that support and understanding Black Lives Matter predicted positive health over time or vice versa. Future research is needed to examine the longitudinal relation between knowledge, support, and understanding of Black Lives Matter with health indicators over time. A second limitation concerns utilization of single-item measures for the key constructs. Single-item measures can introduce bias in parameter estimates due to measurement error, and may not adequately represent the construct. One item constructs prevent an accurate and comprehensive assessment of what a person’s actual understanding is regarding BLM and how it has impacted their life. One item constructs also make it difficult to ascertain what is meant by “good health.” Future research should utilize multi-dimensional constructs to assess the degree to which individuals are knowledgeable, supportive, and understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement. Another limitation is the lower survey response (e.g., approximately 10%). Although the current study is based on secondary data analyses, future survey research might utilize a longer time frame. Similarly, the current study relies on self-report data from the participants. Future research should consider using objective health indicators with self-report data. Lastly, the current study does not specify the diversity of the foreign-born Black Americans in the sample nor does it allow for comparisons between native and foreign-born Black Americans. Foreign-born Black Americans may originate from countries with distinct histories and cultures such as the Caribbean , which may influence how they appraise the Black Lives Matter movement. Future research should examine whether knowledge, support, and understanding the Black Lives Matter movement varies among African Americans, Caribbean immigrants, and African immigrants. Despite these limitations, this study is the first empirical examination of the link between support, knowledge, and understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement for physical health among nationally representative Black American adults.
A recent commentary called on public health researchers and practitioners to support the principles of the Black Lives Matter movement. The commentary argued that confronting racism is a public health concern and necessary to reduce health disparities caused by structural racism [7, 8]. Our study illustrates the significant positive health implications of the Black Lives Matter movement among Black American adults, and encourages future research to assess how, when, and for whom support for the Black Lives Matter movement relates to health and health-related behaviors of Black Americans. Given the health implications, it is also critical to “stand with our community partners to advocate for relevant policies that improve health in communities of color, and support local, state, and federal initiatives that advance social justice” (p. 29) .
The present study examined whether knowledge, support, and understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement were linked to positive physical health among a representative sample of Black American adults. The necessity of Black Lives Matter becomes more evident given the increasing numbers of Black American individuals killed in police officer interactions . In 2018, 1164 individuals were killed by police officers though it is unclear how many of the victims are Black American . Although there is a common misconception that police violence only affects Black American males, the rate of stops, frisks, and arrests were identical for Black American men and women in New York City (30). Thus, both Black American men and women (e.g., Philando Castile, Sandra Bland) have been killed in police officer interactions and evoked in the context of Black Lives Matter. In the context of this systematic, racial macro-stressor, the current results indicate that understanding and supporting Black Lives Matter are positively linked to health among Black American adults.
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The original version of this article was revised: The names of two coauthors of this article were updated following the article’s original publication: The names “Aggie Noah” and “Brandon Yoo” are now given in the article’s author line as “Aggie J. Yellow Horse” and “Hyung Chol Yoo”, respectively.
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Seaton, E.K., Yellow Horse, A.J., Yoo, H.C. et al. Health Implications of Black Lives Matter Among Black Adults. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-020-00749-z
- Black lives matter
- Black American
- Physical health Indicator