Portrait of Loss: America’s Lifespan Disparity
He sits on a front porch in anywhere USA. His eyes are downcast. There is a soft swish swish of his foot swinging back and forth across the concrete like boys do when they are troubled. He is a family friend and neighbor, brown, like the occupants of the house. At this moment he is being held accountable for stealing a lighter from the front porch. He comes to the house all bravado, like only a 10 year old can do. When he sits down for his reality check the truth of his youth shows through. A tiny tear sits in the outer corner of one eye as he tries one argument after another in his defense. Finally the tough love settles in and the tears roll down his cheeks freely, “I miss my dad” This is his reality, fatherless not by abandonment, but something more permanent. A little over a year has gone by since his father died of a heart condition in his late thirties. He was another victim of the lifespan disparity between nonwhites and whites in the United States.
• African American males live an average of 6 years less than white males.
• Native American males live an average of 7 years less than white males.
• Disability from diabetes, hypertension, heart and kidney disease steal the lives of African American and Native American males 5 times more often than their white counterparts, taking them from their families and gainful employment.
Diet, exercise, social and economic disparities, poor care and poor access to care, as well as high levels of chronic stress have all been cited as factors for shortened lifespan. These causes all make logical sense except when viewed alongside Hispanic males who suffer with the same issues but who don’t have the same lifespan disparities. What if the cause is actually a well proscribed role in the life of many Asian and Hispanic Americans males, or the history of slavery’s effects on the descendant African or Native Americans? The solutions would be vastly different.
We can only work with what we know. Eat a healthy diet, exercise moderately, and stay away from sugared drinks. No solution would be complete without a commitment on the part of all Americans to work resolutely for a just America for everyone. No one of us got where we are on our own, it does us good to hold a hand out for the next one.
In the meantime I see the boy later that day. He is swaggering up and down his little strip in front of his apartment. His hat is cocked to the side. He holds his pants with the droopy drawers look. He is with a small group of other boys all trying to emulate the look of the punks they admire. Possibly even if his father was alive he wouldn’t have been able to save him from this, but he definitely would have tried.