Myboyfriend recently disclosed to me that perhaps the hardest thing for Black men to admit is when they are “not okay.” I suddenly realized, without asking why, that like Black women, our men also face cultural pressures to be strong and Black, too; — a racial myth that can be psychologically and physically taxing on our health. Where Black women may become a target under the stereotype, Black men can become dehumanized and even invisible.
There are approximately over 21 million Black men in America. And in more ways than one, they all face visible and invisible health challenges that negatively impact their life expectancy. In fact, recent studies indicate that Black men have the lowest life expectancy and the highest death rate from diverse causes compared to all other counterparts.
The social, financial, and racial inequities Black men face seem endless and further complicate the relationship between equity and healthcare. The state of Black men in America highlights a greater need to be addressed and nationally recognized as a worldwide health crisis. Because not only does America largely ignore the overall plight of Black male health, but most Black men suffer the worst health outcomes.
To put it into contemporary terms: The Black male health epidemic is silent — but deadly.
From racial discrimination to high rates of incarceration, lack of affordable health services, homicides, and health conditions such as heart disease and HIV, Black men face several barriers that continuously contribute to disproportionate health outcomes.
Persistent inequities in Black male healthcare found:
- Some leading causes of death include heart disease, cancer, stroke, homicides, and suicides.
- Only 25% of Black men seek mental health treatment compared to 40% of their white male counterparts.
- Over 37% of Black men are considered overweight or obese.
- 40% of Black men die prematurely from heart disease, nearly twice as much as their white male counterparts.
- Black men have a high suicide rate; — which is the third leading cause of death in 15–24-year-olds.
- Over 75% of the Black male population is less likely to be insured.
Research also indicated the intersection of race and gender influences health, and racial discrimination and implicit bias uniquely impact both. African Americans commonly face pervasive challenges as a result of racist inequities in healthcare. However, Black men have been found to take a significantly larger hit where healthcare racism is concerned.
Because white men hold the highest level of social power in America, negative attitudes around health treatment tend to go against Black men. Studies show Black men as the primary targets of anti-Black discrimination amongst healthcare providers — due to the combined disparity of suppressing health issues and lack of equitable access to health treatment and cultural stigma over reported cases.
These studies demonstrate how vulnerable Black men are to discrimination in the health industry. Black men have higher death rates than White men for all leading causes of death. This means Black men are more likely to die than to receive the proper preventable treatment they deserve.
After the implementation of the Affordable Care Act coverage provisions in March 2010, the uninsured rate for African Americans (under age 65) decreased from 20% to 12% by 2019. However, the uninsured rate was still significantly higher than our white counterparts. While such health provisions may increase availability and coverage for Black men, racial disparities indicate that these provisions do little to eliminate structural racism and cultural stigmas Black men face throughout the healthcare system.
The unfair treatment Black men experience in healthcare has been consistently revealed in research and maintained by discriminatory practices; — leaving Black men to shoulder the highest healthcare burden. It’s unfortunate, but Black men’s health statistics reflect the massive impact of marginalization and how it impacts their health overall.
Perhaps the biggest invisible health challenges Black men face lies in self-examination; — which tells them they don’t have the option to not be okay or that their mistrust of the healthcare industry is invalid. This foundation is rather laid early; — with Black men often raised with the conviction that their health is of no productive value to themselves or their communities. Instead, Black men widely internalized the notion that their value lies solely within their physical strength and that anything else is a threat to societal and cultural pressures.
Expectations around the strong Black male schema and unequal health care often prevent our men from seeking equitable healthcare. However, it is possible to overcome this reluctance and racial myth if responsible parties do their part to make wellness a priority.
Some initiatives may include:
- Establishing a relationship with a primary care physician or therapist who is culturally competent and aware of the leading causes of mental illnesses or death for Black men, such as depression, chronic stress, heart disease, obesity, prostate cancer, and strokes.
- Acknowledging the gap in suicide prevention for Black men and supporting research initiatives that seek to address Black male suicidality in America.
- Prioritizing more funding for institutions and programs centered on Black male wellness worldwide, such as crisis support hotlines and counseling programs.
- Aiding and supporting more Black men in medicine, psychology, and therapeutic fields.
- Holding health industry officials accountable for driving solutions toward Black male equity and treatment. (Healthcare administrative professionals’ contact information can be located on any hospital/primary care website).
- Placing responsible policymakers at the forefront of enacting legislation that eliminates inequities for Black men in healthcare.
- Sponsoring and supporting organizations such as Black Men’s Health, The Black Men’s Health Project, and Black Men’s Health Initiative, which are committed to raising awareness and sharing resources for Black men. In addition to online media platforms such as @blackmenheal, @expressyourselfblackman, and @therapyforblkmen, they actively promote Black male wellness on social media.
- Support local and national (state or county) health resources and providers who seek to aid and address the Black male health crisis in America.
Black men are just as likely as anyone to experience health illnesses but are the least likely to get help. Self-examination may be the beginning for the Black man to admit they are in need — and to act on it by asking for help. And seeking help will require them to deviate from expectations that normally require them to be strong.
If we have to expose a Black man to tell him: “It’s okay if you’re not okay,” then so be it. The time is now that we consider the health of the leaders in our community a priority. It has been made too painfully clear that we have no room to wait any longer.
Quintessa is a Freelance Journalist & Content Editor | Currently a Contributing Writer for MadameNoire & The Root | #WEOC member & moderator | Blacktivist | Editing words for Cultured, WEOC, and AfroSapiophile Publications | With bylines in GEN, ZORA, Momentum, and midnight & indigo.