Weathering: Extraordinary Stress of Ordinary Life in an Unjust Society by Arline T. Geronimus 2023

Geronimus, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has written a wise and important book. What could have been just one more volume about racism in America is original and valuable in its health and life span framing of the impact of being Black, poor, an immigrant, or otherwise marginalized and othered in America.

The initial sections of the book provide detailed data about how weathering, the constant, omnipresent feeling of being ‘othered’ and devalued that Black Americans experience, results in devastating health impacts and shorter life spans for these groups.  From the increased incidence of infant and maternal mortality to the six years of shorter life span for Black men compared to their similar class and educational white peers, from the excess deaths of Geronimus’ Black Princeton male classmates, and on and on, she provides overwhelming evidence that just being  Black in America results in biopsychosocial stress and major health impacts.  Her own experiences as a Jewish woman at Princeton provides first person insight into othering and weathering and reminded me of how at Harvard and indeed, all through my career, I was uncomfortable and stressed when I was in the presence of tall, Protestant, Boston-Brahmin types.  Imagine the impact if that feeling was present 7×24 throughout one’s life.  Her description of how Black or poor Americans must ‘put on their armor’ everyday to survive in our society was powerful.

The second half of the book is much less satisfying as she proposes ways to address this problem and reduce weathering.  From improving bus service to training more Black doulas and midwives, the solutions struck me as Sisiphysian, much too small for the scope of the problem.  Perhaps she’s more realistic having toiled in these fields for decades, but her suggestions struck me as too little too late.

Nonetheless, this is a valuable addition to the literature on the social challenges that face our country and should be read and thought about.