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“Set My People Free” : Did slavery drive African Americans crazy?

Reflecting on Martin Luther King Day, I think about the great progress that black people have achieved in a country where slavery has been abolished. Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco without pay. Are black Americans still feeling the effects of slavery 396 years later?

I’d say yes and that’s why we wanted to launch a New Selma Party. The idea of the New Selma Party is to spotlight the new front in the fight for civil rights: health disparities among blacks.

According to the United States Census Bureau, black Americans have the lowest average household median income at $33,321 a year. This is behind Hispanics at $39K, Non-Hispanic Whites at $57K, and Asians at $68K. According to the National Poverty Center, poverty rates for blacks greatly exceed the national average. And poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. Studies show about 72 percent of black mothers are single compared to 29 percent for non-Hispanic whites, 53 percent for Hispanics, 66 percent for American Indian/Alaska native and 17 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander.

The link between poverty and mental health is well-known. Those with low incomes are more likely to suffer from poor mental health. Both individual and neighborhood economic deprivation increase the risk of poor general and mental health. In addition, those with mental health problems are more likely to experience poverty: once incapacitated, an individual’s socio-economic status is likely to fall further (‘selective social drift’). Complicating matters, mental health is often stigmatized in the black community. For example, research findings show that blacks, particularly black women, experience major depression at higher rates than whites, but seek treatment less often. A lack of adequate health care and ability to cover the costs can significantly contribute to low rates of the treatment of depression. Around 20 percent of black Americans  are uninsured compared to less than 12 percent of whites.

There seems to be a direct link between slavery and poverty among black Americans. There is also a link between poverty and mental health. Let’s use the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King to celebrate progress and start a new conversation about health disparities in America.

We call it the New Selma. Join the party and share your story.