You know the “Beat Down” is killing us — right?
The Beat Down, which is the next wave of oppressive affronts designed to dehumanize us, brutalizes us with severe economic inequality; mass incarceration; police shootings of unarmed Black citizens. It also attacks our children — Black children are punished more severely that white children for the same behaviors. But perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Beat Down is that it is causing African Americans to die much earlier than our white neighbors.
A recent article appeared in The Atlantic by Ibram X. Kendi. The title of the article was The Greatest White Privilege Is Life Itself. What he revealed in his article is that in some parts of America, white people live as much as 30 years longer than Black people living only a few miles away! On average the lifespan for us is around 10 years less than that of whites, but in some areas the difference is twice or even three times that average.
I knew that there is a difference in lifespan numbers, but this news was surprising to me. How can that be true? How can we live in the richest country in the world, in the 21st century and still die at the rate of people in a third world country?
The Beat Down is killing us! Income inequality, the wealth gap, discrimination, micro-agression – all add up to a poison in our bodies that is destroying us. The poison is chronic stress. We’re stressed when we get up in the morning to face another day in mainstream society. We’re stressed when we turn on the news to see another Black person shot by the police. We’re stressed when we go into a store and are followed because they think we might steal something. We’re stressed because we’re less likely to get a job interview if our name sounds too Black. We’re stressed at work because whatever we do reflects on the entire Black race, at least when we make a mistake. On the other hand, any outstanding accomplishments are just because we are the exception to the rule.
Day after day, one offense after another, it builds up until it is too much for our bodies to take. African Americans have higher rates of chronic stress diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer than our white counterparts. Living while Black in America can be an unhealthy proposition and the problems are made worse by lack of good health choices.
According to Kendi.
“Despite men having agency to engage in healthy behavior, all men do not have equal opportunities to make healthy choices,” a team of authors wrote in a recent examination of trends in black men’s health. All men (and women) do not have equal opportunities to eat healthy. Even when controlling for poverty, black and Latino neighborhoods are more likely than white neighborhoods to be in food deserts, where supermarkets and farmers’ markets with affordable, healthy food are hard to find, and where cheap and unhealthy food is easy to find.”
Additionally, “medical mistrust” is much more prevalent than previously believed. Several recent studies have shown bias on the part of doctors resulted in African American patients feeling disrespected, receiving less complete examinations, getting inadequate treatment and/or having necessary medications insufficiently prescribed. According to a study at Portland State University, Exploring Four Barriers Experienced by African Americans in Healthcare, African Americans tend to wait longer to address their health issues than their white counterparts because of the way they are treated. The result of this medical mistrust is deadly. By hesitating to consult a doctor about health issues, devastating diseases can go undetected until it is often too late to treat them effectively.
So, you might ask, if the problem is so widespread what can I do about it?
The good news is that because of this spotlight shining on the medical mistrust issue, there are efforts to make doctors more aware of their implicit bias when it comes to treating Black patients. Also, there are more Black doctors practicing than ever before.
But the key to the solution rests with each and every one of us. We are not powerless. We are powerful individuals. We must start exercising our power in ways that will benefit us and extend our lives. We can’t change what society throws at us. What we can change, however, is our response to what society throws at us. What we can modify is our response to racism and discrimination. We can stop allowing those daily irritations and frustrations to grow into deep anger and resentment – deep anger and resentment create chronic stress and pump destructive chemicals into the body. What we can do is walk away from chronic stress and the diseases that are killing us. We can choose not to die!
We can step out of that “kill zone.” We can elevate ourselves to a level of personal power that will change our individual lives but also the quality of life in our communities. We can disconnect from those emotional buttons that are triggered by the slights and insults and microaggressions that we encounter every day. We can do it through the power of forgiveness. Admittedly, this is a word that has been ridiculed and disparaged for centuries. It is viewed by the uneducated as a sign of weakness. In reality, it is a word that is based in power. One who can forgive demonstrates an inner strength that comes from a deep-rooted self-awareness and confidence that cannot be shaken. That inner strength is like the taproot of a plant. It goes deep. It nourishes the mind, body and spirit from a profound source of energy. Forgiveness is letting go. Letting go of that flash of anger. Letting it flow through you and out of you so you can move on. Forgiveness, if mastered, can change your world for the better.
We do not have to succumb to the Beat Down. We can neutralize its impact on our lives as individuals and when enough individuals make that change, the world will change with us. Remember, negative emotions cause the body and mind to contract to pull into itself like a turtle under attack. That diminishes your power. Forgiveness on the other hand opens the body, empowers the mind and energizes the spirit. When you allow yourself to open, you allow the incredible creative power of the Universe to flow through you and clear the path before you.
Let’s flip the script on the Beat Down!