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The city of Chicago is arguably at the epicenter of the largest Black-White life expectancy gap in the United States, according to Rush University Associate Provost for Community Affairs, Dr. David A. Ansell.
The idea that Black Chicagoans suffer from a widening life expectancy gap when compared to other cities is not new. Academicians like Dr. Ansell have been speaking out for years on the subject. Scientists, researchers, and local newsrooms regularly provide detailed reports highlighting staggering health disparities between Black Chicagoans who make up the majority of residents in one neighborhood and Whites living just a few miles or even blocks away. Dr. Ansell provides numerous examples of the gross life expectancy disparity between Blacks and Whites in the 2017 publication of “The Death Gap.”
Life expectancy rates or “death gaps,” as Dr. Ansell preferred to call it in a recent interview with Chicago Leader, refers to “large life expectancy gaps in this country, certainly between the rich and the poor that are growing, but in particular between Black and White…. There have always been these giant life expectancy gaps that cannot be explained just on account of what I call the three Bs—beliefs, behavior and biology.” He was referring to an argument he made in his book. “People immediately jump to the three Bs… as the reason for the health and life expectancy differences.” But the three Bs claims are false. The real problem is systemic or structural as he put it. Continuing the interview, Dr. Ansell advanced a comprehensive explanation of the death gap asserting:
“There is an actual neighborhood effect—the conditions under which people live, work, and play and the way that decisions about power, resources, and money are made that leave whole populations of people behind. And it is one thing to be poor, you know, but it’s another thing to die prematurely as a result. So there are these large life expectancy gaps.
Chicago is at the epicenter of maybe the largest Black-White gaps in the country, but they exist almost everywhere. It’s Black-White, it’s rich-poor. There’s these life expectancy gradients and insofar that social conditions cause these death gaps, as I call them—they’re inherently unjust, and there’s an urgent need to correct them. So that’s… how I would describe it. In Chicago, for example, before the COVID pandemic, there was a 9.2 year life expectancy gap between Black Chicago and White Chicago largely driven by these neighborhood conditions.
The other thing I would explain to people [who] say homicide is the reason… [is that] if you look at the causes of death: heart disease, cardiometabolic disease, [or] as we call it, diabetes, hypertension, stroke… vascular disease, and cancer, account for 50 to 70% of the premature mortality chronic diseases. I tell people, yeah, it’s a form of violence but it’s structural violence. It’s structural because it’s designed in the way our society operates, our laws, our policies, our procedures, [and] our norms. What we’ve gotten used to is being sort of standard operating procedure… certainly in communities that are low income in this nation, and it’s violent because people are put in harm’s way as a result. So it’s a reframing of causes of death from being purely biological or result of behaviors, and being more tied to the structural conditions that are both economic and political, social and structural.”
There is a “death gap,” that much is clear and well-articulated throughout the interview laid out in the opening paragraphs of this report. Dr. Ansell has discovered that Black Chicagoans are dying at a much higher mortality rate than non-Blacks. He argues that this disparity has much to do with the kind of inequity created by structural violence, which is not the same as physical violence but nevertheless results in premature death. He suggests “we need to take action against a host of offenses that rob people of their dignity and their lives.” But what are the specifics behind Chicago being the “death gap” epicenter? Dr. Ansell will answer this and other questions regarding the causes and solutions to structural violence in February’s edition of Chicago Leader.
Written by DiMarkco Chandler and Cathy Milne-Ware
Interview: Dr. David A. Ansell
The University of Chicago Press: The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills by David A. Ansell, MD.; 2017
Featured and Top Image by Nathan Hicks Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of David Ansell, MD – Facebook