October is both Breast Cancer Awareness Month as well as Domestic Abuse Awareness Month and, on the surface, the two seem to have little in common except concern for the quality of women’s lives. Most men understand that breast cancer and domestic violence represent forms of crisis in the lives of black women, but I’d like to suggest that our dismissive attitude towards women’s health care issues represent a form of abuse itself.
According to the Chicago Foundation for Women “violence against women and girls is a cradle-to-grave epidemic.” The Institute on Domestic Violence in the African-American Community at the University of Minnesota found that black women were 30 percent more likely to be subject to domestic violence than white women and 250 percent more likely to be the subject of such violence than men. Additionally, black women account for more than 20 percent of the homicides associated with domestic violence despite only representing 8 percent of the national population.
Thankfully, there is now a generation of men, including activists and educators like Jackson Katz, Quentin Walcott, director of the CONNECT’s Community Empowerment Program in New York, Ulester Douglass of Men Stopping Violence in Georgia and filmmaker Byron Hurt who are providing leadership in getting men of all races to understand their complicity in violence against women. It is still a struggle to get men to speak out against violence against women, but the aforementioned men represent tremendous growth in that regard.
Thanks to organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the foundation behind the pink ribbons and wrist bands so prominently featured during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, society is beginning to grapple with the disproportionate effect of the disease on black women, who, while less likely to get the disease than their white peers, are far more likely to die from it.
There are lots of reasons for the discrepancies between black and white women, but I’d like to highlight the roles that black women play as caretakers and nurturers in our communities. Also, black women are seemingly more willing to address the high incidence of hypertension and prostate disease among black men, often at the expense of addressing their own health issues.
Ironically, few black men seem to take the same interest in black women’s health concerns or their own health issues for that matter. Men have been socialized to think of diseases like breast cancer, fibroids and osteoporosis, as simply examples of “women’s diseases.” Some men are likely to dismiss diseases that disproportionately affect women, because they were told as boys that it was “mommy’s time of the month,” distancing them from women’s health issues. Nevertheless, black men must take greater responsibility in increasing their awareness of diseases that afflict their mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and friends.
For example, some studies have shown that 80 percent of all black women suffer from some form of fibroid disease, yet most black men are oblivious to the effects of the disease. Could you imagine a disease that afflicted 80 percent of black men that black women would be largely ignorant of?
In many ways our willing ignorance about black women’s health issues represents a form of abuse. As healthcare issues remain critical to black America, it is incumbent on black men to get serious about finding out about the diseases that affect the women in our communities with the same passion that some of us have begun to address domestic violence.