Monday, August 11, 2008

Can I Live?

As far as I know, I'm a relatively healthy 30-year-old man. I work out about three times a week, try not to consume more than 2,000 calories in a day and I've since stopped engaging in any behaviors that might endanger my well-being since moving in with my girlfriend.

But as we've seen with Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes in recent days, there's only so much control that you can have over your health. And that's when, as a black man, I begin to worry.

The statistics are daunting: black men in America are at an increased risk for about every single health problem. The average life expectancy for black men is 70, six years behind white men, seven behind black women and 11 behind white women.

The anecdotal evidence is troublesome, too: for example, my childhood idol, Ralph Wiley, died of heart failure at age 52 despite a relatively clean bill of health. Not to mention tales of other black men in my life - and others - who died too soon.

I've got a fighting chance to make it into my 70s since I come from relatively healthy stock - both my grandfathers surpassed the age of 80 and my father is 61 but could easily pass for someone 15 years younger.

But I wonder if something else is at work besides my genes and mere lifestyle choices. I often joke with family members and friends that I'm cutting years off my life by worrying about run-of-the-mill discrimination. And it seems funny until I read this in the LA Times: "For a black man, a stress response to discrimination can be triggered by something as subjective as feeling suspicious eyes on him in a department store."

Considered me stressed out.

Example: I was stopped by the cops last weekend. No traffic infraction or anything. Just, you know, Officer Bruce was running my plates because "I have that right," as he told me later. As I waited on the shoulder of the road, another officer pulled up behind my car. The officers commiserated for about 15 minutes before deciding to ticket me for failing to register my vehicle in a timely manner. I asked him, "how did you pick me out - of all people - on such a busy street?" Officer Bruce and Office Pigu didn't have an answer for me other than it was their right to run my plates.

And this was the second time something like this had happened in the past month.

All told, I've probably been stopped by cops about 40-50 times in the 14 years that I've been driving. I don't think I'm a particularly bad driver - I've had two accidents that were the fault of other motorists and I'm no speed demon. Over that time, I've had officers ask to search my car (they were surprised when I told them no), for looking lost while driving through the neighborhood (only a block from my mother's home) and for trailing a white female co-worker too closely after midnight (this happened in somewhat notorious Jasper, Texas).

To perceived slights - why didn't anyone say hi at the party? - to outright insults like being called "nigger" at an IHOP in Bossier City, the incidents add up in some imperceptible way. Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. But my body eventually pays the price.

So, what's a brotha to do? As Jay-Z might ask, can I live?


Zen said...

Man, that pain is very real. It's not unfamiliar to many brothers and sisters. You have to realize that ALL Americans have their stressors. We ALL have to learn to cope in a very hectic world. Can you live? YES, but remember that's all a part of living. Take the sugar with the salt. If there was no bad there would be no good.

blackink said...

Zen, I'm all about Maze philosophy on life: taking the joy with the pain, praying for some sunshine and dealing with the rain.

Stress is something that we all have to deal with, true. But the statistics don't lie. There's something else at work here besides learning to "cope in a very hectic world."

Brothas are dying, and dying earlier than anyone else. Thus, that's what I'm worried about, because I happen to be a brotha and most of the men in my family are too.