A new study illuminates the very real dangers of literally "walking while black."

In addition to rogue police officers targeting people of color on the street, a recent study from Portland State University found that drivers are less likely to stop for black pedestrians.

The study, a follow-up from one conducted in 2014, administered tests using identically dressed black and white volunteers attempting to cross the same intersection. The 2014 study revealed black male pedestrians waited 32% longer than white male pedestrians for cars to stop. The 2017 research expanded on these tests to include black and white women and marked versus unmarked crosswalks.  


When the crosswalk was unmarked, the stopping rate was relatively low across the board, regardless of race or gender — and regardless of Oregon law. However, when zebra stripes were added to the crosswalk, drivers were more likely to stop for white pedestrians, regardless of their own race or gender. In these marked crosswalks, cars stopped for white pedestrians 57% of the time and black pedestrians 44% of the time.

A zebra-striped crosswalk. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

And the drivers who did stop for black pedestrians tended to crowd the crosswalk, giving black pedestrians less room to cross safely.

The researchers also measured where drivers stopped for pedestrians. A driver stopping on or before the stop line is more than 10 feet away from the intersection, giving the pedestrian ample room to cross. When the pedestrian was a black male, drivers stopped after the stop line in 71% of the trials. For black women, it was 67%.

When the pedestrians were white men or women, the drivers stopped before the line 52% and 55% of the time, respectively.

Yes, you're reading this data correctly — the very tool meant to keep all pedestrians safe is generally effective only when the pedestrians are white.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Studies like this don't necessarily mean everyone behind the wheel is racist. But it's likely that implicit biases are at work.

Since the race and ethnicity of the driver had little effect on whether they yielded to pedestrians, it's unlikely that they're driving around with malicious intent to injure or harm pedestrians of color. However, subconscious and implicit biases — aversions, preferences, or attitudes that we prescribe to certain people or communities without even realizing it — are real and powerful. When we have to make quick decisions, our brains often rely on these implicit biases, which can have unintended (even deadly) consequences.

"Driving is a situation where you're processing a lot of information," Kimberly Kahn of the Transportation Research and Education Center at Portland State University told The Oregonian. "It's in those situations where the most subtle and implicit biases can impact decision-making."

Some of these implicit biases may be why people of color are overrepresented when it comes to pedestrian fatalities.

In 2014, nearly 5,000 people in the U.S. were killed while walking. Non-white individuals are approximately 35% of the U.S. population but make up just over 46% of pedestrian deaths. Some of this can be attributed to the higher prevalence of pedestrians of color and the way certain streets and neighborhoods are designed with minimal safe crossings. However, even controlling for these factors, a disparity persists — it's simply not safe to walk in some neighborhoods.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

But there are ways to combat both unsafe walking conditions and our own biases.

Increasing the number of drivers stopping for pedestrians across the board will inherently improve the number of drivers stopping for people of color. This means pushing local leaders for better crosswalk signage and street marking. It's also important to implement smart design, investigate where pedestrians are most at risk for being struck, and consider what measures can be put in place to slow cars or change traffic patterns.

And it's crucial that we work on our own implicit biases, first by acknowledging that they exist. It can be difficult to take a good hard look at why we think the way we do, but by examining our own preconceived notions and attitudes, we can make great strides toward dismantling or changing them.

Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

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