The Mortality of Black Men
My father died when I was a sophomore in high school.
My Vice Principal called me to the office and told me there had been an incident and my mom was on the way. My dad, Donald R. Bowling, had suffered a massive heart attack. He was likely gone before we left campus. He was 65.
While I was in high school, both of my mom’s brothers, my uncles Freddie B. and Mac, also died of heart attacks in their mid-60s.
My step-father, Allen, passed from Covid in the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. He was 72.
According to 2021 CDC data, the average life expectancy in the US was 76.4 years, down from a 2014 peak of 78.9, ranking the country in the neighborhood of Croatia, Estonia, and Turkey. For Black Americans the number is 71 years. But for Black men it is 65. This is lower than Zimbabwe and just beating out Haiti. No, really. Here’s the data.
Put differently, if Black men in America were a country, the life expectancy of that nation would rank 204th out of 227 in the world.
I feel like every week there’s a news story about another Black man dying far too young. According to the CDC, the leading cause of death for Black men ages 1-19 and 20-44 is homicide. Some are killed by police: Manny, Mike, Tamir, Eric, Walter, and Philando. Far, far too many are killed by other Black men in gun violence. Others die from drugs and accidents or accidents involving drugs. But the number one cause of death for Black men age of 45 and over is heart disease.
Black American men generally don't get to live long lives. Knowing this since childhood, shapes my leisure-time outlook. I prioritize my time over money, saving aggressively for a retirement I might not see. While consulting gigs or side hustles can earn more, they can't buy more time.
Hope loathes when I talk about this. Statistically I have something around twenty-one years left. But low-key, I think I’m better than average. I’m making lifestyle choices that can extend that but I reckon people like Lance Reddick from The Wire and Bosch, dead at 60 and Andre Braugher from Homicide: Life in the Street and Brooklyn Nine Nine, dead at 61, thought so too.
I used to believe in a glorified urban legend called the slavery hypertension hypothesis. I remember hearing about it in the 90s. The hypothesis posited that the people taken from West Africa, who survived the Middle Passage, disproportionately carry a trait related to salt retention, thus their descendants experience higher rates of hypertension. It’s one of those things that totally makes sense until you think about it for longer than a minute. For those interests, here’s a solid debunking of the hypothesis the American Journal of Public Health.
I mention this because I realize that my health is in my hands. Sure racial disparities in health care treatment, accidents, and bad luck are real things but my choices are the only factor I can control.
Enough of this grim talk about my own mortality.
Someone asked me after last week’s newsletter why I was so obsessed with my new 30-minute commute. I think this is it. I am kinda obsessed with time and not having mine wasted.
Pacific Lutheran University is a delightful college in my hometown. I helped dozens of students apply to PLU and get accepted over the years. Each applicant to the school was required to respond to this Mary Oliver quote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Kids wrote about making a difference. Some wrote about travel or starting their own small businesses. No one ever wrote a 180-minute round-trip commute from Bothell.
Let’s wrap with some travel
This weekend Hope and I took a quick trip to Bahrain. The highlight of the weekend was (kinda randomly) attending a regional women’s club hockey invitational tournament. Teams from Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Russia (yeah, I don’t know why either) competed. It’s our second time visiting Bahrain. It was the best weekend I’ve had in a minute. We’ll write more about the trip over at our travelog later this week.
Here’s some photos from the tourney.
Lastly, shouts to the staff at Señor Paco's in Bahrain! 10/10 would go again.
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