We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
— The Declaration of Independence
The founding fathers artfully crafted the phrasing that among the unalienable rights due all men is the pursuit of happiness. Part of that pursuit comes in one’s ability to get a job, develop a career, build wealth through an honest wage and establish a home. Many Black Americans have found that pursuit stymied by forces often beyond their control.
According to an article published by The Hamilton Project of Brookings Institute, the net worth of a typical white family was $171,000 in 2016, nearly 10 times the $17,150 net worth of a Black family.
The report said that gaps in wealth between Black and white households reveal the effects of accumulated inequality and discrimination, as well as differences in power and opportunity that can be traced back to this nation’s inception. Read more.
Children’s inheritance from their parents includes so much more than just a monetary bequest in a will. It can also encompass the gift of a college education, support starting a business or buying a home, financial know-how or a family business.
That inheritance starts at birth. Black families, which on average accumulate less wealth in the U.S. than white families, often have less to pass down to the next generation.
The Institute for Policy Studies reported in 2019 that the median Black family in America owns $3,600, about 2% of the $147,000 owned by the median white family. After adjusting for inflation, “the median Black family saw their wealth drop by more than half” from 1983 to 2016, while the median white family’s wealth accumulation increased by a third, according to the study.
“When you think about how wealth is built over time, typically the way wealth has been built is through property ownership,” REV Birmingham Director of Recruitment and Business Growth Taylor Clark Jacobson said. “That is a ladder to privilege and access.” Read more.
As part of The Legacy of Race series, BirminghamWatch looked into how race affects health and health care. What we found turned into a series of stories on its own.
Historically Black neighborhoods have some of the lowest life expectancies and highest rates of disabilities and infant mortality in Jefferson County, in line with national trends. Poorer health is a result of several factors.
Rural and poorer areas across the state lack easy access to healthy foods and to adequate health care facilities. People who live there may lack the money, insurance or transportation to seek health care when illnesses are manageable. When they do get to the doctor, most of those doctors are white and from completely different cultural backgrounds, making it hard to build trust.
When added to other factors such as poorer areas also having more environmental pollution, fewer sidewalks and fewer parks to encourage exercise, the result is more health problems and lower life expectancy rates.
Revisit the BirminghamWatch stories that explored these areas:
Segregated lunch counters. Segregated buses and bus terminals. Obstacles to voting. Many people risked and gave their lives to topple these barriers, and one name that will always be prominent in those ranks will be an Alabama sharecropper’s son named John Lewis.
Lewis, a longtime member of Congress representing a district in metro Atlanta since 1987, died Friday of pancreatic cancer, and words of praise from at home and abroad have been flowing ever since.
“John often encouraged getting into a little ‘good trouble for a righteous cause’ and he pursued the cause of racial justice with love, and as a uniter, not a divider,” U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said in a statement released by his office. “He taught me that heroes walk among us, and that true heroes are those that bring us together. We lost a true American hero today.”
Lewis’ 80 years of life began up in rural Pike County, in a house with no plumbing or electricity, where he was the third of 10 children in the family of Eddie and Willie Mae Lewis. As a boy, he preached to chickens. As a teenager, he heard remarks from Martin Luther King Jr., followed the Montgomery bus boycott and later met both King and Rosa Parks. Read more.
The color of a child’s skin can affect their health, education and sense of worth from the time they are born, or even before that.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that racial discrimination, direct and indirect, drives health differences of Black children and adolescents.
Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasley, a professor of pediatrics and internal medicine and the division director of UAB Adolescent Medicine, said “adverse childhood experiences” such as racial discrimination or violence in their community stay with people and affect their well-being across their lifespan
“When we have looked at these experiences, we understand that they are stressors and risks for adult health problems such as mental health issues like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders, but also physical health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, cancer, emphysema, diabetes and fractures,” said Coyne-Beasley.
She said that experiencing racism or racial injustices not only affects a person’s confidence, it also affects how they form relationships and influences how young people develop identities for behaving with others in their worlds. Read more.
Trust — or a lack of it — can become a barrier when it comes to health care.
Black patients sometimes get less effective treatment than similar white patients, and sometimes that’s because they don’t trust doctors of a different race as much as they do doctors who look like them.
And yet, there are relatively few Black doctors in the U.S. The Association of American Medical Colleges reported that, in 2018, there were about 807,400 active physicians in the country and only 45,534 of them were black. Experts see it as a problem.
“Black Americans make up more than 13% of the U.S. population, yet only 5% of physicians are black,” wrote National Public Radio’s Yuki Noguchi in a story that appeared July 1. “That lack of representation isn’t just a problem within medicine … but it perpetuates a sense that medical and mental health care is not of — or for — the Black community.”
Two popular fan choices to replace “Redskins” as the nickname of Washington’s NFL franchise are “Pigskins” and “Red Tails” (in honor of the World War II fighter pilots from Tuskegee, Alabama). I suggest owner Daniel Snyder make everyone happy with a compromise choice of “Pig Tails.” (Please push your automated laugh track button now.)
Sports team nicknames can be funny, but the Washington franchise’s adherence to its 87-year-old name in the face of multiple protests in recent decades is not funny. Native American activists brand the name as racist. The franchise cites tradition and says the name pays tribute to the heritage of American Indians. But on Monday, Snyder, who once vowed he would never change the name, agreed to do so. It’s part of a national awakening about memorials and symbols that demean traditionally oppressed groups, but mostly it’s because some big-time corporations threatened to withdraw sponsorship of the Redskins. Read more.
Birmingham’s skyline includes prominent medical facilities, such as UAB, Children’s of Alabama and St. Vincent’s Hospital. Within sight of those buildings, however, are neighborhoods with the worst life expectancy and disability rates in Jefferson County.
Socioeconomic factors affect health, notably poverty, lower education and poor access to amenities such as grocery stores and sidewalks. But Black Americans also face barriers within the medical field itself, which lead to worse care and worse health outcomes.
“Even when you are physically close to a health care facility (that) doesn’t mean that you actually have access to that facility,” said Dr. Monica Baskin, a professor of preventative medicine at UAB and the Department of Medicine’s vice chair for culture and diversity. That access may be barred by lack of medical resources, no or limited insurance coverage or lack of what Baskin calls “culturally competent” care. Read more.
The Legacy of Race is an ongoing series about how the history of racism and segregation in Alabama affect the society we live in today.
Read part 1 of the health care installment: ZIP Code, Race Predict Lifelong Health Inequities
Read all of The Legacy of Race stories.
The “Right to Breathe Caravan” toured several north Birmingham neighborhoods Saturday, calling for environmental and racial justice in communities that have faced decades of industrial pollution. Read more.
On the day he’s born, the average white resident of Jefferson County is expected to live about 3.5 years longer than the average Black resident.
Jefferson County’s Black residents have higher rates of death due to heart disease, diabetes, stroke and “malignant neoplasms,” or cancerous tumors, than their white neighbors, according to the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership’s 2018 Community Health Equity Report, which studied county and state health statistics.
Infant mortality and low birth weights are twice as likely to occur among black newborns as white ones.
These differences are clear when data is broken down by ZIP code. Historically Black neighborhoods, such as College Hills, Fountain Heights and Titusville, show some of the lowest life expectancies and highest rates of disabilities and infant mortality in the county. Majority-white areas tend to show better health outcomes, an effect that is most pronounced in high-income areas such as Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills.
In this, Jefferson County mirrors the rest of the nation. Black Americans generally have more health problems and chronic illnesses, and consequently shorter life expectancy. Read more.
The Legacy of Race is an ongoing series about how the history of racism and segregation in Alabama affect the society we live in today. Read the stories published so far.