Black men suffer worse health than whites in the US. They also have the lowest life expectancy (69 years) compared to men and women of all other racial and ethnic groups. This is largely due to socioeconomic factors. And socioeconomic factors are in large part determined by societal attitudes (read: racial bias).
From poor access to health insurance to “credit invisibility” in home buying to high rates of incarceration and unemployment, the deck is stacked against African American men in the United States. One way it manifests is in poor health.
Police violence is also a leading cause of death for young Black males (be sure to check out DCP’s Say Their Name podcast series about police killings of unarmed Black men).
Comparison: 10 Leading Causes of Death for Black and White Men
These were the leading causes of death for Black males and white males in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
For both Black and white men of all ages, heart disease is the number one cause of death, followed by cancer, then accidents. But after that, the similarities start to diverge.
For Black men in America, the fourth leading cause of death is homicide.
For white men it’s chronic respiratory diseases—homicide doesn’t even make the top 10 list.
Homicide and Police Violence Are Leading Causes of Death for Young Black Men
An even more disturbing picture emerges when you break down the data on leading causes of death for Black men into age groups.
In 2017, the number one cause of death for Black males ages 15 to 44 was homicide. For Black males ages 1-19, homicide accounted for 35.3% of total deaths; for Black males ages 20-44, the rate was 27.6%.
Police encounters are also more deadly for young Black men.
“Use of force” includes gunshot, beating, asphyxiation, chemical agents, Taser, or medical emergency.
Approximately 100 of every 100,000 Black males will be killed by police. Contrast this with white males, of whom 39 of every 100,000 will be killed by police.
This means Black males are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white males.
We Can Do Better by Black Males in America
There are many theories about why homicide rates are so high among Black men, including racist tropes about “Black-on-Black crime” (rates of Black-on-Black crime are very similar to rates of white-on-white crime).
The reality is that the reasons are complex. We need investment in Black communities. We need police and prison reform. And we can’t overlook the intergenerational impacts of slavery and Jim Crow on Black Americans.
This week began the trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the merciless killing of George Floyd last year. It’s a vivid reminder of what African American men—especially young Black men—face in this country.
Until we stop trying to explain away health disparities among African American men as a problem of “poor lifestyle choices” or as a simple matter of “personal responsibility,” we will continue to see millions of preventable deaths. We must do better.