I wanted to present a polished, formal essay – a satire, perhaps – about the seriousness of “being Black”. Using the medical disease model, I wanted to present “Blackness” as a health-threatening condition. Health is defined as physical, mental, and social wellbeing. For further clarification, wellbeing is the experience of “positives” or “good things”. Experiencing “negatives” threatens the wellbeing or health. These negatives that are experienced are classified and given specific names but the main name for these negative experiences is “disease”.
What does health have to do with Blackness or being Black? First I will define Blackness: a life-threatening, hereditary condition often expressed in physical features. Blackness – a life-long condition affecting physical, mental, and social wellbeing – is diagnosed at birth.There is no cure for Blackness but signs and symptoms can be treated with physical, psychological, and social interventions.
Now that Blackness is defined, I will attempt to sketch out the link between health and Blackness. Simply put, “life expectancy and other key health outcomes vary greatly by race…” according to the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control. Don’t believe me? Here are some facts:
“In the United States, whites have a longer healthy life expectancy than blacks…”
“Non-Hispanic black adults are at least 50% more likely to die of heart disease or stroke prematurely (i.e., before age 75 years) than their non-Hispanic white counterparts”
“The prevalence of adult diabetes is higher among Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks, and those of other or mixed races than among Asians and non-Hispanic whites. Prevalence is also higher among adults without college degrees and those with lower household incomes.”
“The infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic blacks is more than double the rate for non-Hispanic whites.”
“Data from the REACH U.S. Risk Factor Survey of approximately 30 communities in the United States indicate that residents in mostly minority communities continue to have lower socioeconomic status, greater barriers to health-care access, and greater risks for, and burden of, disease compared with the general population living in the same county or state”
There are other determinants but even they seem to be tied into race.
Attainment of education greatly affects ones socioeconomic status and ones health. Those who do not receive adequate education are more likely to live in poverty. “Educational attainment and income provide psychosocial and material resources that protect against exposure to health risks in early and adult life (1–3). Persons with low levels of education and income generally experience increased rates of mortality, morbidity, and risk-taking behaviors and decreased access to and quality of health care (1,6–8). This report confirms that the lowest levels of education and income are most common and persistent among subgroups that systematically exhibit the poorest health.” Even when controlling for gender, those diagnosed as black (and others with a minority diagnosis) tend to have less education than the non-diagnosed population.
Diet: We are what we eat, correct? Junk in, junk out! We have all heard the cliches that tell us of the importance of a healthy diet. A high-quality or healthy diet helps to give our bodies what it needs to function well and avoid chronic health conditions (e.g, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, etc). A healthy diet requires access to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. That’s all fine and good but what happens when you don’t have regular access to healthy food? A national study found that those affected by blackness often live in areas where there are few, if any, sources of high-quality/healthy food.
(Un)employment: I remember watching a documentary that showed a social experiment. Here is the following scenario:
Two men are looking for a job: one is afflicted with Blackness; the other is not. Both have the same credentials on their resumes. They are both called in to interview for the same job. The employer likes them both but can only hire one of the men. How does the employer choose between two men with identical credentials? I cannot say for sure but I will tell you that the non-Black man got the job. This experiment was repeated with various hiring managers of many companies: the Black man was less likely to be hired than his White counterpart. Shocking, right? The white applicant must have something “special” that the Black applicant didm’t have, you may argue. Does a criminal record count? For the purposes of the study, the White applicant had a criminal record and the Black applicant did not. So just to recap: when competing for the same job, a Black applicant without a criminal record is less likely to get hired than an equally credentialed white applicant with a criminal record.
In 2010, those with Blackness represented twice the amount of unemployed than the non-minority group. The struggling minority may take hazardous jobs. Those who are afflicted with Blackness make up about 21% involved in high risk occupations. That’s not so bad, right? Well the non-minority rate is about 13%. You can decide for yourself.
Comorbidity and complications of Blackness are vast. I haven’t begun to cover everything.
With my Blackness, I have inherited so much: so mush is great, so much is bad.
I am a multi-ethnic, Black female and I am very proud of my background. So why would I try to portray race as an illness? Being Black is treated as disease or abnormality. We are always “the other”. Our standards (of health, wellbeing, beauty, customs, cultures, diet, lifestyle, habits, etc) are constantly being measured against the standards of the “majority” (ironically they are a relatively small, exclusive group) and we always seem to come up “short”.
I personally wanted to write this piece as a result of the constant “standard comparisons”. My standards are constantly threatened as I navigate through a society that tells me that everything about my Blackness is “deviant”. From my medium tone to my natural hair to my propensity to be curvy: I am told that I am not normal and I must change by those who subscribe to the mainstream messages generated by the majority. Constantly being exposed to such negative messages has a strong affect on my wellbeing (emotional and physical). Furthermore, the exposure of these negative messages affects others perceptions of me. While the sun doesn’t rise or set because of the what people think of me, their actions towards me can have an affect. When people allowed to on their misperceptions of people due to their race, they are being prejudice. When people have power or privilege and prejudice: they are racists. When racist come together to create an organization in which they remain the group in power or privileged based on racial criterion: they have created systematic oppression. Systematic oppression can explain vast majority of the “complications of being Black”.
Despite what society says, being Black is not wrong. Oppressing people due to their racial background is wrong.