Life Expectancy Disparity Found Among Black and White Young Men

When a Mother Loses a Son
We All Need to Grieve

Today, I want to share a story I wrote two years ago and filed away. What prompted me to write this story was the terrible loss two women I know experienced. Both lost sons who were 20 years old. No one saw their deaths coming. Both young men teetered on the cusp of adulthood. One son collapsed on a bus, unaware of the cancer that had spread throughout his body. The other by homicide, shot execution style in the back of the head.

Their lives, one White and the other African-American, were as different in death as they were in life. One was an aspiring filmmaker and college student, an only child to a suburban Maryland couple who waited until late in life to start their family. The other had hit a few bumps in the road but had turned his life around. He’d enrolled in a culinary arts program at a local community college, set to begin the day following his death. He grew up in a single-parent household in suburban Chicago.

Linocut by Ina R. Silvergleid
Linocut by Ina R. Silvergleid

Life and Death, Black and White

In the year of their birth, the White son was given a life expectancy of 73.4 years. The African-American son was given a life expectancy of 65.2 years. Two years hence, these numbers provide little comfort to their families. Nor does the fact that the suspect alleged to have fired the gun is an African-American teen.

In 2013, the leading cause of death among African-American males, between the ages of 20 and 24, was homicide -- an alarming 49.9% of all deaths. Among White males in the same age bracket, homicide accounted for 8% of deaths. Instead, accidents (50.3%) accounted for the largest number of deaths among White males in the same age bracket.

Black-on-Black Violence

Today, police shootings of African-American males have become front-page news in places near and far. While the disturbing frequency of these tragic events deserve our scrutiny, we cannot forget the larger story playing out in many cities through the United States: black-on-black violence.

The pastor who gave the sermon at the funeral for the African-American son did not mince words when he told a packed church that the problem “our community” faces does not come from the outside but from “within our community.” According to the most recent statistics (2013), less than one percent (.9%) of African-American male deaths, aged 20-24, occurred at the hands of law enforcement.

The incomprehensible loss of anyone’s child should make us all pause and reflect. As a nation, it seems that we have become accustomed – even indifferent -- to the violent deaths experienced by young men of color. Like cancer, we need to search for a cure to help eradicate the senseless violence that scars many of our neighborhoods.

The lives of all our sons and daughters, regardless of color, should matter.

homicideIna Silvergleid