Black women had a 44 percent higher rate of breast cancer death than their white counterparts, according to the National Cancer Institute. Blacks accounted for 44 percent of new HIV cases in 2010, an infection rate eight times higher than that of whites. According to the American Heart Association, black Americans are nearly twice as likely to have a first stroke and much more likely to die from one than whites.
But there’s one place where black Americans appear to be living longer than whites. A new study out in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, shows that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the nation’s largest integrated health care system, found that the adjusted mortality rate of black Americans was 24 percent lower than their white counterparts.
“We thought we were going to show they do the same if the same care is offered to both groups. But we found blacks do even better,” the senior author Dr. Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh, a nephrologist and epidemiologist at UC Irvine, told The Los Angeles Times. “This is a paradox within a paradox."
The nine-year study suggested that black Americans have certain genetic or other biological advantages that in certain scenarios make them healthier than their white counterparts, the authors said. So how come black Americans’ health doesn’t fare better outside the VA? Because of differences in opportunity.
Just last week, in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus’ Foundation gala on Saturday, President Obama talked about structural racism (without naming it) as a reason for why black American women are at a disadvantage in health and other areas."
“The incarceration rate for black women is twice as high as the rate for white women. Many women in prison, you come to discover, have been victims of homelessness and domestic violence, and in some cases human trafficking,” the president said. “They’ve got high rates of mental illness and substance abuse. And many have been sexually assaulted, both before they got to prison and then after they go to prison. And we don’t often talk about how society treats black women and girls before they end up in prison.”
The VA study is released as the GOP is trying to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that seeks to improve black and brown women’s health. The House voted 241 to 187 to block funding to Planned Parenthood last Friday, alleging the organizations sells fetal tissue for medical research. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid suggested the Senate will vote on defunding on Thursday.
According to its website, 79 percent of Planned Parenthood clients live at or below the poverty line. And blacks and Latinos are overrepresented at 14 and 22 percent, respectively, of all Planned Parenthood clients.
If America stands any chance at improving the health of helping black and Latino Americans to be as healthy as whites—or even healthier—it needs to shell out resources, not obstruct them.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.