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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Boyd: Life expectancy for Black residents falls short

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Where you live in Indianapolis shouldn’t make a difference on how long you live.

But it does.

Just a few minutes or miles can make a huge difference on the number of years you walk this Earth. An article in this week’s edition highlights an Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health and SAVI study on life expectancy in the Indianapolis metro area.

As you probably already guessed, the news isn’t great for predominately Black, low-income neighborhoods. The news is rarely great for predominately Black, low-income neighborhoods. Lead researcher Tess Weathers summed it up perfectly, “The gap in life expectancy is just the final manifestation in a series of gaps during living years.”

Indeed.

We know there are myriad issues affecting the residents of low-income Black neighborhoods. Many exist because of low income. Poverty and racism are at the root of so many issues affecting quality of life for Black residents, so it makes sense life expectancy is diminished as well.

The 46218 ZIP code has the lowest life expectancy in the metro area of 68 years. That ZIP code is home to Martindale-Brightwood and the Recorder. When you’re young, anything past 50 is ancient, so there was a time when I thought 68 was old. I don’t anymore. Growing up, I remember many adults started dying in their 40s, or they became ill with chronic conditions. Making it to your 60s seemed like a big deal. Living until your 70s or even 80s were extra blessings. I knew how you lived played a role in your quality of life, but I didn’t realize many factors were outside of one’s control.

Now, compare 46218 to 46037 in Fishers where the life expectancy is 84.4 years. What’s the difference? Money. Access. Education. I could go on.

Black people deal with inequities in health care, food access, environmental issues, education attainment and the list goes on and on. The stress of being Black in the United States of America will get you one way or another.

What burns my britches, to quote a phrase my grandmother used, is Black people are often blamed for our predicament. There’s this belief of a pathology to Blackness and we don’t want to achieve, we don’t want success and we don’t want happy, fulfilling lives.

We want those things, and the majority of us are working hard to attain those things, but the deck is stacked against us and has been since forever.

We didn’t create poor neighborhoods. They were created for us. We didn’t create our lack of generational wealth. It happened because we were shut out of economic opportunities. Our mistrust for institutions such as government or health care didn’t come out of thin air. It happened because those institutions failed us multiple times. And to top it off, we pay the ultimate price by dying sooner.

As I’ve said before on this page, but it bears repeating because undoubtedly someone reading this will run down the list of all the self-inflicted harm Black people cause, calling out inequity doesn’t negate personal responsibility. Two things can be true. I can believe we’re owed reparations and believe I should work every day. Recognizing a historical distrust of the medical industry doesn’t mean I think one shouldn’t go to a doctor. Instead, you find a doctor you can trust. Of course, people must take responsibility and accountability for their actions and their choices. And I know there are some people who will never take accountability or responsibility. I’m not talking about them. Too many of us want to focus on the negative minority instead of the positive majority and this dictates our outlook. We must quit this silliness in our discourse.

I find it interesting that ZIP codes with high infant and maternal mortality rates also have a low life expectancy. Black people in general aren’t living as long as our counterparts. We shouldn’t shrug our shoulders and blame them. We should instead ask “How did we get here?” and “What can we do to improve it?” What does Indianapolis need to do to create a better quality of life for all residents and in turn a longer life expectancy? It will take a concerted effort to look at the problem holistically — not piecemeal a program here, a program there.

Hopefully, this study is the foundation we need to make meaningful change from the cradle to the grave for Black residents of Indianapolis.

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