Yolanda King, the eldest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, died last night at the age of 51.
Though we don’t know the cause of death at this time, her untimely death has me wondering about the state of black people’s health in the US. In the last few years, we’ve lost a lot of incredible black people–activists, musicians, and others who have died at a very young age (Luther Vandross and Gerald Levert first come to mind).
In virtually every category of health indicators, black people are worse off than all othe racial groups. A recent New York Times article highlighted the fact that Black infant mortality rates in the South are rising.
“In Mississippi, infant deaths among blacks rose to 17 per thousand births in 2005 from 14.2 per thousand in 2004, while those among whites rose to 6.6 per thousand from 6.1. (The national average in 2003 was 5.7 for whites and 14.0 for blacks.”
In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report called Health Disparities Experienced by Black or African Americans. Investigating the health in the areas of HIV, stroke, hear disease, the report stated
“For many health conditions, non-Hispanic blacks bear a disproportionate burden of disease, injury, death, and disability. Although the top three causes and seven of the 10 leading causes of death are the same for non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites (the largest racial/ethnic population in the United States), the risk factors and incidence, morbidity, and mortality rates for these diseases and injuries often are greater among blacks than whites. In addition, three of the 10 leading causes of death for non-Hispanic blacks are not among the leading causes of death for non-Hispanic whites: homicide (sixth), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease (seventh), and septicemia (ninth).”
The report baiscally says, “Damn, its bad.” The editorial note lists some reasons for the disparities, saying
“Multiple factors contribute to racial/ethnic health disparities, including socioeconomic factors (e.g., education, employment, and income), lifestyle behaviors (e.g., physical activity and alcohol intake), social environment (e.g., educational and economic opportunities, racial/ethnic discrimination, and neighborhood and work conditions), and access to preventive health-care services (e.g., cancer screening and vaccination) (8). Recent immigrants also can be at increased risk for chronic disease and injury, particularly those who lack fluency in English and familiarity with the U.S. health-care system or who have different cultural attitudes about the use of traditional versus conventional medicine. Approximately 6% of persons who identified themselves as Black or African American in the 2000 census were foreign-born.
For blacks in the United States, health disparities can mean earlier deaths, decreased quality of life, loss of economic opportunities, and perceptions of injustice. For society, these disparities translate into less than optimal productivity, higher health-care costs, and social inequity. By 2050, an estimated 61 million black persons will reside in the United States, amounting to approximately 15% of the total U.S. population (9).
The best way to honor the life of Yolanda King, and those people in your life who have died too young is to:
- Walk more. Run more. You don’t need a gym membership to do it.
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. I know some of us live in neighborhoods where there ain’t a good grocery store around, but call or meet with your city council people and make it happen.
- Work to stop violence in the community. Mentor some young people. It doesn’t mean you need to go through an organization, but make yourself known and available to the kids on the block.
- My queers? Get you some gay children (and you know what I mean!) We’ve gotten away from really mentoring younger LGBTQ folks in the communtiy who’ve been abandoned by or at least not fully supported by their families. If you don’t like the way the kids carry (like here in NYC on Christopher Street) intervene!