by Dr. Boyce Watkins.
Many of us have seen the dismal statistics for black males in America. African American men are at the bottom of the barrel in nearly every category of life, including healthcare, education, incarceration, and unemployment. Many of us raise our black boys with little to no understanding of how many of these statistics are perpetuated by a series of systems that serve to enhance and promote a lifestyle that leads to an early death. That is one reason why we’ve expressed concern for hip-hop music, fueled by corporate America, that promotes a self-destructive lifestyle that many young men emulate.
It turns out that the facts might be worse than many could have speculated. According to a recent study, black men are half as likely to die in prison than if they are free. The authors of the study claim that easier access to healthcare, protection from drugs and alcohol, and the ability to avoid deadly black-on-black violence leads to a longer life span for those who are incarcerated. African American males are the only group for which these facts hold true, according to the authors of the study.
The authors of the research, set to be published in the Annals of Epidemiology, also claim that the study reflects a pattern that those from disadvantaged groups live longer in prison primarily because they are protected from violent injuries and murder that can happen on the outside.
"Ironically, prisons are often the only provider of medical care accessible by these underserved and vulnerable Americans," said Hung-En Sung of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
"Typically, prison-based care is more comprehensive than what inmates have received prior to their admission," Sung, who wasn’t involved in the new study, said to Reuters Health.
The study examined 100,000 men between the ages of 20 and 79 being held in North Carolina prisons between 1995 and 2005. Sixty percent of the men being examined were African American. The authors found that while in prison, the death rate between whites and blacks was the same. But outside of prison, black males were far more likely to die than whites.
"What’s very sad about this is that if we are able to all of a sudden equalize or diminish these health inequalities that you see by race inside a place like prison, it should also be that in places like a poor neighborhood we should be able to diminish these sort of inequities," said Evelyn Patterson, who studies correctional facilities at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
"If it can be done (in prison), then certainly it can happen outside of prison," Patterson said to Reuters Health.
I don’t know about you, but this study made my stomach turn. Dying and going to prison are among the easiest things for a black man to do in a world where it’s easier for him to get a gun than a good public school education. Most interesting is that black male political power is so weak that politicians in Washington have almost no incentive to pay attention to the crises occurring within our communities. Given that politicians don’t care about your son, brother or husband, here are some things you might want to do:
1) Raise your boys differently. If we allow our sons to be raised in a world where every song on the radio tells them to become the next Lil Wayne and every television commercial persuades them to be LeBron James, we’ll end up with a teenage boy who’s been wired to walk right into the traps that have been laid out for him. More interesting is that there are circles of violence among young black men that breed confrontation and a set of self-destructive behavior patterns being promoted by irresponsible television networks like BET which feature artists who make light of drinking and driving, sexual irresponsibility and gun violence. There is a prison bed and a casket waiting for your son on the day he is born. It is up to his mother, father and mentors to divert him from the pathway that has been created.
2) Black men must take responsibility for one another. Not only should black males work for continuous consciousness and awareness of the manner by which their psyches have been hijacked, but we must challenge one another to think differently about how we perceive education, fatherhood, community leadership, etc. In other words, BS must be stopped in its tracks when we see it, even if it means confronting our friends in ways that make them uncomfortable. We must challenge one another to embrace manhood and not the caricature of the shiftless, lazy, ignorant negro who spends more time thinking about going to the club than about making a better life for himself and his children.
3) Politicians must be held accountable at all costs. Without pointing fingers at any specific politician, the degree to which black male inequality is allowed to fester is sickening, insulting and unAmerican. Inequality in hiring, education, and criminal justice creates situations where even well-intended black males have their dreams eaten up by institutionalized racism. Black men, to some extent, are America’s cockroaches – our lives are deemed to be less valuable and our concerns less relevant. Any politician who buys into this rhetoric and shows inaction on such disturbing racial inequality does not deserve our support. Individual accountability without broader institutional modification is not the solution. The entire community must take a unified approach to solving these problems, for saving the black man is critical to saving the black family in America.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Syracuse University Professor and author of the forthcoming book, "RAPP: Rising Above Psychological Poison." He is also the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.