By Stephanye R. Clarke
Imagine being a researcher focused on exploring contributors that impact the health of Black men and boys—and feeling like you’re haunted by a ghost. Dr. Wizdom Powell shared that sometimes she feels haunted/followed by the ghost of Eunice Rivers (of the Tuskegee Study) as she entered spaces where these men and boys gathered. A conscientious scholar, she is aware of this legacy and is committed to making sure that she leaves these spaces “better off than when I entered.”
Her talk, hosted by UCONN Health Disparities Institute and titled, “Disrupting the Single Story: How Whole Truths help us to Advance Sustainable Health Equity Agendas,” brilliantly wove gender-related inequalities (example- despite generally having more socioeconomic power and status than women, those privileges do not translate to better health outcomes) with inequities in vulnerable populations (example: exploring deeper, socially-determined contributing factors to Black men still having the lowest life expectancy than any other group in our society).
Overall, Dr. Powell’s work around Black men’s health issues focuses on three fundamentals: norms around masculinity, medical mistrust and exposure to racism.
That last one struck a chord for many reasons: (1) February is Black History Month; (2) mounting evidence of the interconnectedness of poorer health outcomes and racism; and (3) the Super Bowl.
Yes—you read that correctly- Super Bowl 50—weeks leading up to it, the aftermath and Cam Newton. I won’t lie to you—I’m not into sports at all, but in the weeks leading up to the big game, I kept hearing about the Panthers and their charismatic QB, Cam Newton. Well, some referred to him as charismatic, while others referred to him as classless and arrogant. I followed a bit of the scuttlebutt and couldn’t understand what the big deal was—there was a player who, with his team, was on the path to making their dreams come true—dancing in the end zone. Letters were penned, tweets were tweeted and conversations were nonstop about this allegedly unsportsmanlike behavior. I found all of this chatter particularly interesting, considering the following meme.
Things heated up later when Cam Newton was referred to as a “thug” in a now-deleted tweet that started with “It’s NOT about race!…” which is as common as starting a conversation with, “I’m not a racist, but…”. Needless to say, Twitter quickly answered with similar photos, pointing out the double-standard.
A recent Vox article explores the racial overtones when highlighting differences in how Black and White players are viewed and discussed. A New York Daily News article details the differential treatment of the two quarterbacks and you might be scratching your head, wondering how this connects to the lecture/conversation.
A very clear double standard continues to play out in the case of these two men. Dr. Powell studies the story of Black men’s health and the contributing factors leading to some of the worst morbidity and mortality rates.
She examines how double standards lead to differential treatment and reveals itself in sickening health disparities. We are not simply talking of media coverage here, but about how Cam’s treatment in the media mimics Black men’s treatment in our health care “system.” But the consequences are shorter, unhealthier lives filled with the inevitable stress of being kept out of the mainstream, quite simply, by force. Racism proves fatal.
Communities of color deserve better. Dr. Powell suggests truly engaging these communities in the research done about them, and that without authentic trust and the intentional building of relationships, we will continue to see the same outcomes perpetuated on communities of color, especially for Black men.