I have become accustomed to listen to early morning radio, not necessarily to be entertained, but to hear what’s in the news every given day.
And three particular stations meet my daily information needs: CJAD, CBC, CKUT—not necessarily in that order—each one offering specific news and social tidbits of interest to ruminate, and perhaps digest.
So a couple weeks ago, in the lead-up to CJAD’s 8 AM news, Doctor Mitch Shulman’s always informative health segment touched on an issue of particular interest to Black people: stress, and it’s potentially fatal outcome if not taken seriously.
Generally speaking, stress can be deadly for people of all racial, ethnic… backgrounds. But Dr. Mitch made a point of emphasizing its [deadly] impact on Black people in North America, particularly Afro-Americans and their predilection to stress-related ailments and, more ominously, what I’ll refer to as premature death. (Of course, there’s no such thing as premature death. Whenever the ‘best before-date’ comes it’s the predetermined time set at birth.)
In any case, Doctor Mitch outlined a few factors as to why stress impacts Afro-Americans (in my view all Black people living in North America, are sailing on the same boat, all of us enduring varying degrees of daily pressure and stress; there’s no distinction) in such a deleterious way. It’s about what those in the medical-health industry refer to as “stress management.” For the most part it’s a personal responsibility.
Among those [Dr. Mitch] factors mentioned are genetics, slavery and social barriers (the first is natural; the others man-made, the outcomes of the second). But being born black is the primary one, albeit not a medical condition.
If you’re Black and informed you’ve heard the discussion, or read of the factors vis-à-vis living in North America and how the social factors and how being black and the social forces of stress impede us, despite our best efforts engaged in doing all the right things — according to social tenets — first and foremost acquiring an education and ultimately the expectant reward: a slice of the economic pie and living fruitful, fulfilled lives. Let’s just say that we’ve heard anecdotes over the years of how well that has gone for many Black people, how social obstacles have conspired to impede specific ambitions… The doctor illustrated his familiarity. [If you’re Black] you are too. They’re real, not any of those proverbial “chip-on-the-shoulder” anecdotes and/or excuses.
Over the years, I’ve heard recurring discussions on radio and TV and read various articles on how ‘barriers’ are impacting Black people, giving rise to stressful existences…
My ears perked when the good doctor expressed his familiarity with, and knowledge of, stress’s historical debilitating impact on Afro-American and by extension, Afro-Canadian, communities.
So it was a serendipitous moment when about 45 minutes after hearing the good doctor that I arrived at the Community Contact office and noticed right there at the top of a rack of magazines an old Ebony magazine, a September 1992 publication with the late versatile performer-entertainer Gregory Hines gracing the cover.
Leafing through the pages I happened upon a page 36 article, Why HYPERTENSION Strikes Twice As Many Blacks As Whites, by one Karima A. Haynes.
So I began thinking about what Dr. Mitch Shulman had discussed about an hour or so earlier.
The subtitle states, “Racism and urban pressures may cause hypertension disparity between Blacks and Whites.”
[Here’s an interesting, but ominous tidbit. “Because of the racism that exists in our society…darker-skinned people undergo more stress because they feel powerless…” according to one Dr. Robert Murray, at the time of publication, a professor at Howard University’s College of Medicine, who says “racism is a major cause of hypertension among Blacks.]
As if the hypertension issue wasn’t disconcerting enough, enter another factor in the mix, melanism: the ‘skin game’, ‘colorism’… (Dr. Shulman is probably unaware of it). But chocolate-flavoured Black people are further handicapped for being overly ‘melanized’ – our deeper chocolate content.
The hell with all that lighter-darker stuff; if you’re one who becomes caught up in that ongoing conversation, just think of that old sayin’: “The blacker the berry…” Or simply ignore it.
Lighter, darker… in the final analysis, it’s all about the Black amalgam and variegated flavours. All are splendidly delicious… Most importantly, though, it’s imperative that we do all in our power to be healthy by finding ways to live as stress free as possible.
There’s a photo of four Black seniors in a room, three of them waiting their turn to be examined by a medical technician  (she’s gauging the blood pressure of a gentleman as the others look on). The caption reads, “[…] public health officials are on the frontlines in the Black community, stressing the importance of high blood pressure checks. Early detection and treatment of hypertension can go a long way to stave off strokes, heart attacks and organ damage caused by the condition.”
As the article states, “Like a predator silently stalking its prey, hypertension, or high blood pressure, strikes African-Americans at alarmingly higher rates than it does Whites, prompting medical researchers to look at environmental factors like racism, stress and diet as causes for the disparity…”
Fast forward to 2017. Almost 25 twenty-five years to the month of publication of that Ebony article, there have been giant strides in medicine, and people’s personal habits. As such one can conclude, and the evidence speaks to that, that Black people are living longer, better and healthier, notwithstanding various personal afflictions. Nevertheless, when you’re out and about, or even via the TV or magazines, the disparity and associated stress–more so in America than in Canada– between Blacks and Whites is evident.
That sort of information and counsel in the article are apt and probably more relevant today than in 1992. These are different times; but Black people seem to be under more pressure than ever, especially south of the border.
As the article stated then, and others do now, be vigilant. Reiterate. “Blood pressure is a painless procedure used to determine if a person is hypertensive…”
The article concludes, “Although high blood pressure remains a major health threat to African-Americans, medical experts say there is reason to be optimistic. With continued research into the cause and cure of hypertension, early detection and adequate treatment, much can be done to control “the silent killer.”
Personally, it’s through the long-time medical counsel of my different GPs over the years, my annual visits to the doctor and regular checkups (including physical – or hands-on work – along with the requisite blood work, etc.) and by reading articles like the one in question (dates notwithstanding) that I continue to live what so far has been a relatively healthy life. So far so healthy is my operative mantra as far as my aging medication-free body goes.
According to the American Heart Association, hypertension strikes twice as many Blacks as Whites. Which is why I stay informed by listening, reading, exercising and paying attention to my eating habits.
And I keep my fingers crossed on my path to a long, healthy life…