Study: Racism Costs Years of Life

The Los Angeles Times yesterday reported on a new study from the Public Policy Institute of California about “health disparities between whites and Blacks.” When translated out of the dry-as-dust language of public health and policy, what the reports tells is that racism costs Black Americans in years of their lives. And, conversely, that the racial privilege white Americans enjoy extends their lives by years.

According to the report, called “Death in the Golden State,” white men in California can expect to live an average of seven more years than black men, and white women in California live on average about five years longer than African American women, and these disparities persisted among those with similar levels of education.

The article (linked above) goes on to offer some interesting background on mortality statistics and the persistent Black-white gap:

“Nationally, the black-white life expectancy gap has been documented since at least 1900, when whites lived to be, on average, 47.3 years and blacks 33 years. (A study released earlier this year determined that the black-white life expectancy gap had narrowed from a 7.1-year gap in 1993 to a 5.3-year gap in 2003.)

In 1900, the leading causes of death were flu, pneumonia, diphtheria and tuberculosis — diseases that have drastically declined because of immunizations, medications, better nutrition and improved sanitation.

More than 100 years later, heart disease and cancer were the leading causes of death among all California adults ages 25 and older, and stroke was No. 3, except in Latino men, who more often died in accidents.

Accidents were the fourth-leading cause of death for African American men, and homicide was sixth. For Latinos, homicide was the seventh-leading cause of death; in whites, it was 20th.

Homicide, accidents and HIV — the eighth-leading cause of death for black men — tend to kill at younger ages. For black men who survive to 25, the life expectancy gap with white men shrinks from 6.9 to 5.6 years.

‘When you look at it in terms of mortality, you’re underestimating the magnitude of the disparity,’ said Dr. Toni Yancy of the UCLA School of Public Health Center to Eliminate Health Disparities. ‘HIV and violence kill relatively young people. Rather than just comparing death rates, compare the years of potential life lost.’

The article ends there without going on to discuss the variable that Dr. Yancy refers to, the “years of potential life lost.” It’s safe to say that this would reveal an even greater cost of racism.

White Guy Finds Racial Politics Puzzling, Again

Wallace Matthews, in an article titled “Racial issues part of Vick backdrop,” in today’s Newsday, writes that “there still is a sizable portion of the American public that believes none of this would be happening” if Vick were white. Matthews goes on to say:

“Speaking as a middle-aged white male, not particularly a dog lover but of the belief that breeding, encouraging and just watching two animals fight to the death is in some way depraved, it hurts to know that there are some who think I would feel differently about the Vick situation if he were white.

It hurts even more to admit that in some way, maybe they are right. Maybe race does play a role in everything that happens in this country. For my own sanity and peace of mind, I choose to believe not. I think – and I hope – that Vick is going down solely on the merits of his case.

Clearly, there is hypocrisy in a society that is more outraged with Vick than, say, Brett Myers, who was charged with smacking his wife in full view of witnesses in downtown Boston, or would seek to ban Vick from the NFL while embracing Ray Lewis as ‘God’s Linebacker.’

But that doesn’t change the fact that Vick’s crime baffles the sensibilities to the point that you wonder if there is something seriously wrong with him. Don’t tell me about his upbringing or his environment, please. Unless he was raised by Charles Manson or Son of Sam – both white men, by the way – he would have to know that executing dogs was wrong.

That would be true if Vick were black, white or pinstriped, and you would hope that everyone would see it that way.

But the Vick case once again exposes the great racial divide in this country, in which people who interact daily, conduct civil conversations with one another and even regard each other as “friends” can look at the same individual, the same incident, and see it completely differently.

It reminds us that this ‘one nation under God’ is, in fact, made up of White America and Black America, and sometimes it seems as if there are certain issues we will never agree upon.”

There’s really so much that’s misguided, confused and just plain offensive, in Matthews’ piece it’s hard to know where to begin to discuss it all. As an easy get, let’s start with the fact that Matthews resorts to referring to the racial identity possibilities for Vick as including “black, white or pinstriped.” Now, I know that Matthews is a New York-based sports writer, but when did “pinstriped” get to be a racial identity? Is that a reference to the Yankees or to people who are biracial? At the very least, it suggests a lack of understanding about racial politics in the U.S.

I think what is most telling in Matthew’s piece is that it “hurts him” to think that “race does play a role in everything that happens in this country.” And, for his “own sanity/peace of mind” he choose to believe that’s not the case. Remarkable admission, really, when you think about it. I suggest that Matthews consider the kind of racial privilege he enjoys that allows him to ignore racial politics at his leisure and affords him that kind of “sanity/peace of mind.”

After comparing the Vick case to the O.J. Simpson and Kobe Bryant cases, Matthews continues:

“At times like these, it becomes obvious that black people and white people fear and mistrust one another far more than either group cares to acknowledge. We seem leery of each other’s motives and intentions. Each group seems to think the other is out to get them.

To my white, middle-aged mind, the Vick case is as clear-cut as they come. In fact, the prosecutors must have had plenty more on him for Vick to accept a plea without going to trial.

Yet, to others, this is one more example of how The Man has brought down another rich, successful, young black celebrity. To them, the prosecution of Vick is really a persecution based on race and wealth, a McCarthy-like witch hunt for a minor offense no white man would have had to answer for.

It is understandable that Black Americans, justifiably mistrustful of the police and the justice system, would believe Vick to be just another victim of a racist society. We all have seen enough evidence, from the Scottsboro Boys to Rodney King, to know that such things can and do happen. And it is conceivable that dogfighting, so abhorrent to many of us raised in the Northeast, could be shrugged off as another form of rough entertainment, like boxing, to those who grew up in the South.

But none of that absolves Vick, who has lived a life of wealth and privilege for a long time now, who had run his dogfighting operation for more than five years, and who certainly was aware enough that he was doing something wrong to have kept it a secret, and lied to his employer and the NFL commissioner when asked about it.

No, Vick wasn’t set up and he wasn’t railroaded. By his own admission, he did the crime. Now he will do the time. When his time is served, he deserves to get what every American is entitled to: another chance.

At the very least, perhaps all of us, black and white, can agree on that.”

Matthew’s stance in this piece is really a triumph over cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, he acknowledges in a dozen or so ways the deep, racial divide in this country and the fact that Black Americans would do well to be distrustful of the white establishment. Then, on the other hand, when racial politics make him uncomfortable (for whatever reason), this threatens his “sanity” or “peace of mind,” and can then be chaulked up to an ill-defined, inarticulate paranoia about “The Man.”

So, what we have here is a self-described “middle-aged, white male” in American finds racial politics puzzling. Nothing new in that I suppose.

Journalists & Racism in the News

In the past couple of days there have been a couple of interesting, and strikingly disparate, instances of journalists addressing the issue of racism in the news.

First, there’s the story about Andy Rooney’s dislike of baseball, which apparently, he attributes to Latinos playing the game. According to this report (and lots of others), Rooney said, “I know all about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but today’s baseball stars are all guys named Rodriguez to me….They’re apparently very good but they haven’t caught my interest.” Very nice. And, not exactly an apology, but Rooney later acknowledged, “Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have said it. It’s a name that seems common in baseball now. I certainly didn’t think of it in any derogatory sense.”

Then, in contrast to Rooney’s racism, there is Bernard Shaw of CNN, who notes the kinds of struggles to combat racism that journalists face, in an interview with Television Week:

TELEVISION WEEK question: “What is the state of diversity in the newsroom today?”

BERNARD SHAW: “Proponents of diversity should never be pleased with the level of staffing, be it African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans … proponents should never be pleased. There is an ingrained resistance in the minds of people who control to people who are different. That is natural because of the way this country evolved historically.

“The battle is never won. We taught our children, our son and daughter, that the battle is never won. Each generation fights the same battle, only it becomes more subtle, more sophisticated, but it’s still a war. The battle is to help this great nation achieve the promise, that’s all.

“Look at the immigration battle right now. We have about 13 million people who have been living in this country for years, raising their children, educating them, and there’s actually an argument about whether they should be here. They are here, and they are a vital part of the American fabric.

“The battle is never won. There are some people who still believe that people of color are not needed in this country. And yet people of color have been the essence of this country since its beginning. So there’s a great education requirement, and all of us are educators and we’re going to make this country work.”

Bernie Shaw gets it right when he says that the battle is never won in the news room or in the streets, and Andy Rooney seems to make his point even more relevant.

Anti-Racism Rallies Under Attack

Two anti-racism rallies, one in Sweden and the other in Canada, were disrupted by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the last 24 hours.

According to this news story, ten youths at an anti-racism in Stockholm, Sweden, ten youths were assaulted with sticks and glass bottles at an anti-racism concert in Farsta, in the south of Stockholm, on Saturday night. Police suspect that the attackers are neo-Nazis. As a result of the attack, an 18-year-old is in the hospital in serious condition. One of the witnesses at the rally is quoted as saying:

“They began throwing glass bottles at us and most of us tried to run up the stairs to safety … But it wasn’t possible. They just continued to punch and kick him. It was really horrible.”

The young woman quoted above goes on to offer this brave stance:

“I think it’s obvious that it is Nazis who were trying to scare us into silence. But those of us who were there just felt even more angry and more motivated to continue the fight against racism.”

A similar incident occurred in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, according to this news story. Community activists lined the streets distributing leaflets and spreading a message that racism is not welcome in the city, despite appearances by a white supremacist group, including members of the Calgary Aryan Guard, blamed for recently plastering the city with neo-Nazi posters. At one point during the Kensington rally, the Aryan Guard group became involved in a shoving match with a man who tried to grab one of the flags. Said Lee Easton, an anti-racism activist, “We need to show that white supremacists do not represent the entire city of Calgary, that Calgary is and can be a very inclusive place.”

It seems to me there are a couple of take-away message about these two stories. One is that the struggle against racism is never won and is an on-going battle. The other message here is that the anti-racism movement is alive and well internationally. Of course, the obvious question this begs is where are the anti-racism rallies in the U.S.?

Racism in NYC Housing

Sometimes people have the impression that New York City, because it is a global city and there is such amazing diversity here, is somehow more ‘tolerant’ or less racist than say, Texas, where I grew up. In fact, it used to really annoy me when, back in the day after I finished my dissertation about white supremacy at UT-Austin, people from New York and other points north of the Mason-Dixon line, would say things like, “oh, Texas…that must be a really good place to study white supremacy.” As if racism, white supremacy, and overt discrimination, for example in housing, don’t exist outside the South.

A couple of stories from the New York Daily News, one of tabloids here in the city, make this point for me. First up, all the ‘race-blind’ talk about the financial crisis in subprime mortgages disguises the fact that this is an issue steeped in racism. The news story from yesterday about eight Brooklyn homeowners, all working-class Blacks, who won a huge legal victory yesterday when a federal judge green-lighted their suits against a real estate company accused of targeting African Americans and other minority-group members with predatory lending practices.

The homeowners assert that they were victims of fast-talking salesmen for United Homes LLC, who pressed to close deals on dilapidated homes appraised at grossly inflated values without concern for the buyers’ ability to pay.

Sylvia Gibbons, who contends United Mortgage pressured her and her husband to take out two mortgages to buy a house in Bushwick, is quoted in the story saying, “It’s a nightmare we’re still trying to cope with.”

The second story from the Daily News, this one from this morning, highlights the kind of overt racism in housing that most people associate with the South. And, indeed, an unidentified “police source” in the story is quoted as saying: “It’s something out of the Deep South, or the backwoods, circa 1950,” a police source said.

But this is happening right here in New York City right now. According to the story in the News, Kris Gouden, who is of Guyanese descent, and his family are being harassed by white neighbors have launched a racist campaign to run him out of the neighborhood. Now, there is a constant police presence outside his home in Hamilton Beach and a neighbor has been busted on felony hate-crime charges.

Gouden says that his family was threatened while they were sitting on the deck in their own backyard. A white neighbor attacked Gouden and his family, “He comes back with a baseball bat,” Gounden said. “He said, ‘F–k you, n—-r. You don’t belong in here. I will burn this house. I’ll kill all of you.'”

This happened in a section of Queens known as Howard Beach, where several other racist attacks have occurred. But, rather than look at the way these attacks are connected to larger systems of racism, what I predict will happen here in New York is that people will dismiss it as an “isolated” incident precisely because it happened in Howard Beach.