Is Being Black Bad for Your Health?

March 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm 1 comment

Will Ferrell recently tweeted, “I live in a country where a chick that threw flour on Kim Kardashian was arrested on site but the man who killed Trayvon Martin is still free.”

The shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old unarmed African American male, by George Zimmerman, a 28 year-old white man, has sparked conversations and debates across the country regarding race in America. This tragedy has also ignited a “hoodie” movement that silently expresses solidarity and anger over justice delayed.
While the nation protests and the Justice Department continues its investigation, we must ask ourselves: how much better off are we today than we were 4 years ago? This is a question typically posed in reference to our economy. But, the question is also relevant for our social condition. With the election of President Obama came heightened anxiety by whites and a collective culture of fear that has manifested in rising gun sales and cries of self-defense in response to shooting an unarmed Black teenager.

The killing of Trayvon Martin is not about a suspicious Black male in a hoodie, a racial slur during a 911 call or Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The fact that a Black male is not safe in a public space is a reflection of a history of violence against African Americans and institutionalized racism in the United States. The vulnerability of African Americans, Black men in particular, is demonstrated by a pattern of racism by the Sanford police department against African Americans and its decision to try a case according to legislation rather than using probable cause – the standard by which an officer has the grounds to make an arrest – and allowing a jury to decide.

Is being Black bad for your health? Race-related stressors such as experiences of discrimination, have been consistently linked to poor physical and mental health among African Americans, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression and anxiety (see my paper titled “Racial Discrimination, Mood Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease Among Black Americans” in Annals of Epidemiology). Racial discrimination is also linked to mortality rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African American men have the lowest life expectancy than any other gender, racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Even more telling is that African Americans, as a whole, have the highest rate of premature death – as measured by years of potential life lost (YPLL). YPLL is a summary measure of premature mortality or early death. It represents the total number of years not lived by people who die before reaching age 75. Deaths among younger persons contribute more to the YPLL measure than deaths among older persons. The YPLL rate for African Americans is approximately two times the rate for whites. In other words, twice as many African Americans die before their time than whites.

No doubt the stress associated with being a Black male in America is an underlying cause of their reported higher morbidity and mortality rates. And stress in contagious. Not only does it affect each of us directly in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods, but it affects us indirectly as it reverberates across families and communities with each assault committed against a Black body.

As we all wait for the impending arrest of George Zimmerman and witness along with the nation and the world, the spectacle of his trial that will be laced with racial politics, anger and demands for justice, may we continue to heal from our losses, pray for the living and rally for justice.

To your health,


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My Inspiration? A Healthy Black America Changing Hues and the Baby Boom

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Gabe  |  June 4, 2015 at 6:48 am

    This is a brilliant commentary and very necessary! Thank you for your courage to state the truth Dr. Lincoln!


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