Black Health in the United States

updated 5/29/95 We are currently being bombarded with the nonsensical, racist argument that white people are being denied access to resources because of the demands of Black people, because of "reverse discrimination." Nothing so profoundly gives lie to this argument than the basic facts of life and death. There are many measures of the health and well-being of a people, but those that measure life and death are obviously the most important.

Racial Differentials in Death

Infant mortality compares the number of babies who die before their first birthday to the number of infants born in a year. In 1992 the infant mortality rate in the U.S. was 8.5 infant deaths per 1000 live births. The rate for White infants was 6.8 while the rate for Black infants was 16.7. Although both rates have been declining over time, the differential has been expanding. Historically the Black rate has been twice the white rate. However, now it is 2.7 times as high and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that it will be 3 times as high by the turn of the century. The Black infant mortality rate is higher than the rate of every industrialized country and even some Third World countries. Maternal mortality, a related measure, reveals an even worse differential: Black women die during childbirth four times more often than white women. Consider life expectancy. In 1992, the life expectancy of a person born in the U.S. was 76 years. It was 74 for Black women, 65 for Black men, 80 for white women, and 73 for white men. Thus, white people will live, on the average, 7 years longer than Black people. Startlingly, in 1990 two researchers found that the life expectancy for a Black man in Harlem was lower than for a man in Bangladesh.

Today's Epidemics

Much terror lies in the day-to-day sickness that eventually generates death. For example, the major epidemics of the day are tuberculosis and AIDS and Black people are disproportionately attacked by both. The AIDS case rate is six times higher for Black people than white people while the TB case rate is eight times higher. Jonathan Mann, former director of the World Health Organization's AIDS program, points out that "in parts of the Bronx, the AIDS rates are similar to some of the hard hit areas of Africa."

Access to Care

Still, this is not all there is to the physical brutality. Under recent cutbacks many inner city hospitals have been closed. In Chicago, alone, 10 hospitals have been closed, all in Third World communities. Even when hospitals are able to remain open, access to care is denied. Cook County Hospital, which has a clientele that is over 90% people of color, reports a waiting period for a clinic appointment that may to be up to six months. A couple of years ago, researchers revealed the common practice of "patient dumping," whereby private hospitals transferred large numbers of patients, overwhelmingly Black and Latin, to Cook County Hospital, because they had no insurance. The researchers determined that 24% of these were transferred while medically unstable, and thus at risk for their lives. Managed care, the new cost cutting wonder, will only further worsen access to care for people of color as health "care" empires search for ways of increasing profits still further.


While the media focus on the devastating impact that illegal drugs are having on the Black community, little is said about the impact of alcohol and cigarettes. For example, cigarettes now kill about 400,000 people a year, about 20 times as many as guns. It is common in virtually every inner city community to find the vast majority of billboards and store signs devoted to selling liquor and cigarettes -- all the while promising the life of luxury for those who use the advertised products.


The impact of racism on health care is be seen every where. While "oppressed white men" are feeling bad about how little they have and how much Black people have taken from them, virtually every measure of Black health reveals tremendous devastation. Wherever one looks to find "reverse discrimination," one continues only to find discrimination. Discrimination which kills. This is the enemy. This is the poison which must be rooted out.
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