It has been a little over a year since the death of George Floyd was plastered all over the news for the world to see. His infamous death came at the hand of unlawful restraint in which he was held captive for over nine minutes. Since then, global protesters have used a symbolic stance of silence as an outward expression of their protest toward the injustice of black and brown people in the United States and the plague that has taken the thousands of black male lives around this country.
Even though the global protests unmasked the gross injustice experienced by black and brown communities, it hinted more to an issue that no one has seemingly been able to address: the decline of the health of the black man in the United States.
The past three decades have seemingly focused on the health equity of women and children. Even though the health outcomes for black women are still a far cry from being completely resolved and rectified (e.g., they are still rated as having some of the highest mortality and morbidity rates in this country), black men have seemingly gone under the radar. Black men not only have the lowest life expectancy rate compared to other races in the U.S., but they also have the highest death rates. These rates are largely impacted by public health issues, or what we can also refer to as the social determinants of health.
Our working definition for social determinants of health is defined by the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.
Black men are reported to having higher rates of death from heart disease and cancer. Compared to men among other racial and ethnic groups. Young black men in particular (ages of 15-24 years old) are reported to having higher suicide rates among all racial groups; which is now their third leading cause of death.
Studies also show that the leading cause of death for black men is homicide. Black men make up “52% of all gun homicide victims in the U.S., and black men face the highest risk of police gun violence”(Center, 2021). These alarming rates are just a puzzle piece of a larger complex picture.
The decline of health for black men can be traced all the way back to the roots of slavery, de-facto segregation, and Jim crow—all time periods in which black men faced numerous amounts of systemic oppression. In current culture, we lucidly see how these systems have not only impacted the lives of black men, but we see the toll it has taken on their emotional, mental and physical health. When it comes to black men and addressing their health needs there are still many complex questions needing diverse answers.
The question of the day is: “What can be done to deter these negative health outcomes”? In an article on the health disparities between races, Dr. David Williams, professor of public health at Harvard University, asserted that the power of discrimination to harm Black men’s lives may be more persistent than previously understood. He states: “the cumulative effect of discrimination takes a toll psychologically and physiologically ― and so does the anticipation of it… what has surprised me is how powerfully and consistently discrimination predicts poor health.” The deterioration of black men’s health highlights a larger inequity seen within our culture: that is, the prevalence of racism and discrimination. In now identifying one of the root causes for black men’s health decline, what can we as public health practitioners do to undue their harmful effects? This will be a continued discussion as we dive more into this complex issue.