What’s Really Killing Black People?

ColorLines commenter Victor points to a troublingly long list of things.

By Kai Wright Jul 22, 2010

ColorLines commenter Victor makes a worthy point in reaction to our reporting on the role of race in the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. Victor notes that there’s a long list of preventable health problems beyond HIV that are killing black folks.

A New York Times article in 2003 by Helen Epstein pulled together some of the growing research on race and public health and their conclusions were startling. While some believe that the high mortality rates in inner city communities is due to gun violence the statistics tell a very different story. According to Epstein poor people of color are dying "because of chronic diseases — mainly diseases of adulthood that … include stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer." Excluding issues of violence, a Black youth in Harlem or Detroit will face mortality rates at age 45 that the white population nationwide won’t experience until age 65. Another study found that poor men in Harlem were "dying from heart disease, cancer and cirrhosis of the liver" at rates that showed they were "less likely to reach age 65 than men in Bangladesh."

I’d add that there’s much to be said on both the structural causes for these stats and the right’s effort to fight public policy that would reverse them. Here’s an article from the ColorLines archives on the colorblind movement’s [effort to reframe conversation about racial disparities in health](/archives/2007/03/the_colorblind_attack_on_your_health.html). And here’s [one I wrote for Mother Jones](http://motherjones.com/politics/2006/05/upward-mortality) a few years back on how structural racism manifests in disease, even among the black middle class. And [here’s the Helen Epstein article](http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/12/magazine/ghetto-miasma-enough-to-make-you-sick.html) Victor cites.