High Alzheimer’s Rates Among African-Americans May Be Tied To Poverty : NPR

Social factors matter:

Harsh life experiences appear to leave African-Americans vulnerable to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, researchers reported Sunday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

Several teams presented evidence that poverty, disadvantage and stressful life events are strongly associated with cognitive problems in middle age and dementia later in life among African-Americans.

The findings could help explain why African-Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to develop dementia. And the research suggests genetic factors are not a major contributor.

“The increased risk seems to be a matter of experience rather than ancestry,” says Megan Zuelsdorff, a postdoctoral fellow in the Health Disparities Research Scholars Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Scientists have struggled to understand why African-Americans are so likely to develop dementia. They are more likely to have conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which can affect the brain. And previous research has found some evidence that African-Americans are more likely to carry genes that raise the risk.

But more recent studies suggest those explanations are incomplete, says Rachel Whitmer, an epidemiologist with Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research in Northern California.

Whitmer has been involved in several studies that accounted for genetic and disease risks when comparing dementia in white and black Americans. “And we still saw these [racial] differences,” she says. “So there is still something there that we are trying to get at.”

The research presented at the Alzheimer’s conference suggests the missing factors involve adverse life experiences beginning in childhood. These experiences have already been linked to a range of diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

“We’re starting to understand how early life stress and early life deprivation can increase your risk of a number of health outcomes in late life,” Whitmer says. “And the latest thing is understanding how and why that might affect the brain.”

Whitmer was part of a team that presented results of a study of more than 6,000 Kaiser Permanente health plan members, most born in the 1920s.

The team wanted to know whether people who grew up in harsher conditions were more likely to develop dementia. So they looked at people who’d been born in states with high infant mortality rates — an indicator of social problems like poverty and limited access to medical care.

White people’s risk of dementia wasn’t affected by their place of birth. But black people were 40 percent more likely to develop dementia if they’d been born in a state with high infant mortality.

“These people left the state and subsequently moved to northern California, yet there was still this very robust association between being born in a state with high infant mortality and increased risk of dementia,” Whitmer says.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin presented results of a study of the link between stressful life events and mental function in middle age. They studied more than 1,300 people in their 50s and 60s, including 82 African-Americans.

Stressful experiences included having a parent with a drinking problem, financial insecurity, legal issues, divorce, being fired from a job, and the death of a child.

African-Americans reported 60 percent more of these stressful events than white Americans. But that was only part of the difference, Zuelsdorff says.

“The impact of these stressful events was stronger in African-Americans than it was in non-Hispanic white participants,” she says.

The researchers discovered this by administering tests that reveal the brain’s speed and flexibility in doing certain tasks. These abilities normally decline with age. So the team looked for evidence that stressful events were accelerating this decline.

And they found that in white participants, each stressful event added about a year and a half to normal brain aging. But in African-Americans, each event aged the brain an extra four years.

The next challenge for researchers is to figure out precisely how adverse life experiences are changing the brain, Zuelsdorff says. That will mean looking at the effects of stress hormones and seeing whether stress leads to inflammation in the brain, something that has been associated with Alzheimer’s.

Source: High Alzheimer’s Rates Among African-Americans May Be Tied To Poverty : Shots – Health News : NPR

Drivers are less likely to brake for black pedestrians, study finds | Toronto Star

Interesting and revealing study that is careful to include the needed caveats to its results:

A new study appears to offer additional evidence that drivers are less likely to brake for African-American pedestrians trying to cross the street, a phenomenon known as “walking while black.”

Researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas also found that the disparity is greater depending on whether the pedestrian is in a high- or low-income neighbourhood: the average number of vehicles to pass by a black pedestrian who was already in the crosswalk was at least seven times higher compared with a white pedestrian in the wealthier neighbourhood, the study’s lead researcher said.

“Sadly, it wasn’t surprising,” said Courtney Coughenour, an assistant professor in the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

But there are also several factors in the Las Vegas study that suggest the results should be interpreted with care.

In three scenarios that the researchers used, they found little statistically significant data to suggest a difference in the way motorists reacted to the pedestrian, whether black or white. In one of those, in fact, more cars passed the white pedestrian than the black pedestrian when they were waiting to step off the curb in the high-income neighbourhood.

What’s more, the roadways between the high- and low-income neighbourhoods differed in design, both in the number of lanes the pedestrian had to cross and the posted speed limit, as the study acknowledges. The researchers also noted, citing other research, that the disparity between yielding rates in the different neighbourhoods could be explained by several factors, such as people in high-income areas more often having private cars and driving more compared to people in low-income neighbourhoods, where there are also generally more pedestrians.

More than 4,700 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the most recent figures available. The Las Vegas study, also citing CDC data, says fatality rates for black and Latino men are more than twice as high as for white men.

The Las Vegas study, which was published online in January in the journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention, involved observing what happens when two female students — one black, one white — cross a street where there is no traffic light.

The experiment was conducted in one neighbourhood located on the west side of Las Vegas where the median household income was $55,994, and in another in the east where the median was $32,884. (Coughenour declined to identify the two neighbourhoods further.)

Both pedestrians in the experiment were students and both were of similar height and build. Each wore similar clothing. They took turns crossing the street about 126 times, or approximately 34 times in the high-income neighbourhood and 30 times in the low-income neighbourhood. (Two crossings were spoiled by observer error.)

The researchers first counted how many cars passed while the pedestrian stood on the curb waiting to cross. After the first car stopped in the nearest lane and the pedestrian stepped into the street, observers continued to count vehicles that failed to stop in the remaining lanes on that half of the street. (The observers did not count traffic moving in the opposite direction on the other half of the roadway.)

What the researchers found was that drivers yielded to the pedestrian waiting at the curb to cross about 52 per cent of the time in the high-income neighbourhood and 71 per cent of the time in the low-income neighbourhood.

After factoring in race, the researchers found little statistical significance in whether drivers yielded for black or white pedestrians waiting at the curb in either neighbourhood — although drivers in the high-income area were less likely to yield for the white pedestrian. (And a higher percentage of drivers in the low-income neighbourhood stopped for the white pedestrian.)

But Coughenour said she was much more troubled by the what happened when the pedestrians stepped off the curb and began walking in the crosswalk — both because of the more dangerous circumstances and because the statistical significance was higher: The average number of drivers who continued moving with a black pedestrian already in the crosswalk was at least seven times higher than for the white pedestrian in the high-income neighbourhood, she said.

Among the several caveats worth noting are these, however:

Nevada law is ambiguous about when drivers are required to stop for pedestrians. Under state law, when there is no traffic light, for example, a driver is obliged to slow and yield the right of way “if need be” when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk on the same half of the highway, the study says. They are also required only to “exercise proper caution” when observing a pedestrian on or near the roadway.

The crosswalk in the high-income neighbourhood was on a street with six lanes and a speed limit of 45 mph (72 km/hr.); the street in the low-income neighbourhood had four lanes with a 35-mph speed limit.

The observers were aware of whether a black student or a white student was crossing. To control for possible observational bias, however, the observers followed a protocol for making observations and counting passing cars, Coughnenour said.

The sample size is relatively small.

Coughenour, while acknowledging the study’s limitations, said she believes the results confirm what researchers found in a study conducted by researchers at Portland State University in Oregon and the University of Arizona. She said the findings are also in line with a large body of literature that suggests people react differently to others based on “implicit bias” that may not be conscious. “We all have some sort of innate bias,” she said.

Source: Drivers are less likely to brake for black pedestrians, study finds | Toronto Star

U.S. owes black people reparations for a history of ‘racial terrorism,’ says U.N. panel – The Washington Post

Others have argued differently Black Lives Matter is ‘woke’ to old problems — but still sleeping on solutions – The Washington Post):

Reparations presents the most acute challenge. This sounds sensible enough, but a thoroughly “woke” person might say black America has already received reparations.

They’re not called “reparations,” of course, but that’s just an issue of terminology. Affirmative Action has been reparations; the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act battling redlining was reparations; the original intent of No Child Left Behind was to identify disparities between black and other children in scholarly achievement and therefore qualified by definition as reparations; in the late 1960s, nationwide, at the behest of the National Welfare Rights Organization and other movements, welfare programs were reformed to make payments easier to get. This, too, was a form of reparations.

The UN-affiliated group in contrast:

The history of slavery in the United States justifies reparations for African Americans, argues a recent report by a U.N.-affiliated group based in Geneva.

This conclusion was part of a study by the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, a body that reports to the international organization’s High Commissioner on Human Rights. The group of experts, which includes leading human rights lawyers from around the world, presented its findings to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday, pointing to the continuing link between present injustices and the dark chapters of American history.

“In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” the report stated. “Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching.”

Citing the past year’s spate of police officers killing unarmed African American men, the panel warned against “impunity for state violence,” which has created, in its words, a “human rights crisis” that “must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Source: U.S. owes black people reparations for a history of ‘racial terrorism,’ says U.N. panel – The Washington Post

Discrimination isn’t ancient history. A new museum shows the truth of that [Museum of African-American History]

The debate over group specific narratives and museums, versus a more horizontal approach. There is place for both:

“Perhaps,” said Barack Obama on the museum portico on opening day, “it can help a white visitor understand the pain and anger of demonstrators in places like Tulsa and Charlotte . . .  It reminds us that routine discrimination and Jim Crow aren’t ancient history, it’s just a blink in the eye of history. It was just yesterday. And so we should not be surprised that not all the healing is done. We shouldn’t despair that it’s not all solved.”

“A great nation does not hide its history,” said George W. Bush, under whose administration was raised the majority of the half-billion dollars that the new museum’s construction consumed. “It faces its flaws and corrects them. This museum tells the truth that a country founded on the promise of liberty held millions in chains.”

…“So much African-American history has been erased, stepped over, or labelled as not in the picture,” Gloria Powell told Maclean’s on opening weekend. She was 85, a retired nurse and nursing educator from Sacramento, Calif., who spent her working life in Harlem.

“Most of the Caucasian population, and a huge section of the African-American population, do not have any idea of our history,” Ms. Powell said. “We were people who were brought here. We didn’t come here to escape religious persecution, we were lifted from our land and our homes and our families. If you become educated about who we are, you will find that you guys no longer need to be afraid of us.”

But there is another dimension to the opening of the African-American museum, which, like the National Museum of the American Indian a few blocks closer to the U.S. Capitol, advances the fragmentation of the Smithsonian into an archipelago of separate-but-equal edifices a sort of institutional apartheid. Across 14th Street, the National Museum of American History retains only a handful of objects related to African-Americans, including jazzman Dizzy Gillespie’s cantilevered trumpet, a photo of hair-care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, and—removed from all context and potency—a lunch counter from Greensboro, N.C., that once was at the nucleus of the integration struggle.

Backed by such celebrities as Eva Longoria and Emilio Estefan, a commission to study the potential creation of the National Museum of the American Latino has been endorsed by Congress, and a man named Sam Eskenazi, formerly of the (non-Smithsonian) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, has been lobbying for a decade for a National Museum of the American People to celebrate waves of immigration.

“All the Smithsonian museums are artifact-driven,” Eskenazi told Maclean’s, brandishing endorsements from groups representing dozens of ethnic groups from the Albanians to the Welsh. “My model is story-driven. My museum covers everybody.”

Source: Discrimination isn’t ancient history. A new museum shows the truth of that. – Macleans.ca

A New ‘Roots’ for a New American Era – The Daily Beast

Good piece on ‘Roots’ and how a reboot needs to reflect the current era:

As the great literary and cultural critic Leslie Fiedler noted time and again, Americans only valorize the Other when we know he or she is thoroughly vanquished; The Last of the Mohicans could only be written after the Indians were thoroughly contained in or effectively banished from upstate New York. At the same time that white ethnics were transforming their downscale heritages into sources of pride (Polish Power, anyone?), black Americans in the post-Civil Rights era were doing the same thing: finding a source of cultural power in a history of exclusion and oppression.

Prior to Roots, Haley was best-known as the amanuensis of Malcolm X, compiling an “autobiography” based on interviews conducted between 1963 and Malcolm’s assassination in 1965. In What Was Literature?: Class Culture and Mass Society (1982), Fiedler writes that Roots was for Haley a natural extension of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which combined elements of Booker T. Washington’s gospel of segregationist self-sufficiency and the confrontational politics of the Black Power movement into a message of militant uplift.

Yet Fiedler notes that Roots, despite Haley’s attempt to write a “final Happy Ending” in which African Americans become professors and government functionaries and world-famous authors, replicates the same irresolvable racial tensions that fueled earlier novels such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman (which became the basis on D.W. Griffith’s execrable The Birth of a Nation), and Gone With The Wind. “Scenes of rape and flagellation are as essential to [Haley’s] vision as to that of Mrs. Stowe or Thomas Dixon, or Margaret Mitchell, though his victims are, of course, always black,” writes Fiedler.

Though the brutalization of his ancestors, especially at the hands of slave owners, means that Haley is himself part white, he cannot acknowledge that part of his ancestry. Try as he might, Fiedler argues, Haley doesn’t offer a way out of an unbridgeable gap between the races. Instead, he describes the lurid, racist fantasies from the victims’ point of view.

Roots 2016

History Channel

That of course is no small accomplishment and the fact that Roots—the book and the miniseries—made black history visible to white America en masse explains its success. White ethnics especially, who often clashed with blacks in the restricted neighborhoods to which both were remanded by zoning and custom, could understand a far deeper and long-suffering oppression lived out in the golden streets of America.

So here we are now, in the 21st century, eight years into the presidency of a mixed-race president, in a country where the percentage of foreign-born residents is rapidly approaching figures last seen in the 1910s and ’20s. On a profound level, we are more at peace with one another than ever before. For 20 years, the Census has included a “multiracial” category to accommodate  basic reality and support for interracial marriage approaches 100 percent (even same-sex marriage, unthinkable even just a generation ago, pulls 60 percent or more approval, with the number bumping each year).

Yet in a commencement speech at Howard University, Barack Obama observed that even as things have markedly improved for African Americans since he himself graduated college, his “election did not create a post-racial society.” To be sure, there is much work to be done. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as their white counterparts and the unemployment rate for blacks is twice that for whites. The rise of Donald Trump is fueled in no small part by grievances among poor whites who are the one group in America whose lifespans are actually shrinking. Black protestors, especially on college campuses, are at times more inflamed than the Black Panthers ever were — despite objectively better conditions compared to 45 years ago in terms of opportunities.

We have stuck in a dialectical conversation where the horrors of our racial past have been represented poignantly and memorably. What we need now is work that shows how most Americans—black, white, and every other type—have moved beyond to a world that, while replete with problems, allows us to be kinder and better to one another.

Source: A New ‘Roots’ for a New American Era – The Daily Beast

The unbending arc: America’s race gap is stuck | Brookings Institution

Richard Reeves on the ongoing economic gap between white and black Americans:

America is in danger of becoming stuck, with insufficient social, geographical, or economic mobility. That’s the claim I made in a recent essay for Esquire magazine, a collaboration between the magazine and Brookings. (You can read the whole package here.)

Poverty persists across generations, too. Half of the black children born on the bottom rung of the income ladder (the bottom quintile) will stay there as adults. A boy who grows up in Baltimore will earn 28 percent less simply because he grew up in Baltimore. Sixty-six percent of black children live in America’s poorest neighborhoods, compared with six percent of white children.

Recent events have shone a light on the black experience in dozens of U.S. cities. Behind the riots and the rage, the statistics tell a simple, damning story. Progress toward equality for black Americans has essentially halted. The average black family has an income that is 59 percent of the average white family, down from 65 percent in 2000. In the job market, race gaps are immobile, too. In the 1950s, black Americans were twice as likely to be unemployed as whites. And today? Still twice as likely.

In part this reflects geographical separation, too. While the degree of segregation by race has reduced slightly in recent years, as shown by my colleague William Frey, black Americans are still likely to live in areas of concentrated income poverty, and to be Stuck in Place, as the title of Patrick Sharkey’s influential book puts it.

Race gaps in wealth are perhaps the most striking. The average white household is now thirteen times wealthier than the average black one. This is the widest gap in a quarter of a century. The recession hit families of all races, but it resulted in a wealth wipeout for black families. In 2007, the average black family had a net worth of $19,200, almost entirely in housing stock, typically at the cheap, fragile end of the market. By 2010, this had fallen to $16,600. By 2013—by which point white wealth levels had started to recover—it was down to $11,000. In national economic terms, black wealth is now essentially nonexistent.

Half a century after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, the arc of history is no longer bending toward justice. A few years ago, it was not unreasonable to hope that changing attitudes, increasing education, and a growing economy would surely, if slowly, bring black and white America closer together. It is now clear that time and economic growth alone will not heal the racial divide.

Source: The unbending arc: America’s race gap is stuck | Brookings Institution

Appreciate the History of Names to Root out Stigma – NYTimes.com

More on implicit bias and names, this time with respect to African-American names:

Besides the barrier to entry to employment that comes with a “black name,” employers also tend to hire “racially palatable” blacks or other minority individuals. If a person is unstereotypically non white — which is to say, for example, that he or she acts white — that person is more likely to be considered for the job.

Nontraditional names are testaments to nonconformity, but they do not signal combativeness or unacceptable personality fits.

The insidious bias against people with black-sounding names pops up long before they hit the job market. And usually, the more unusual the name, the more susceptible to bias. A study published in 2005 found that teachers had lower expectations for children with unusually spelled names like Da’Quan, even when compared to their siblings with “less black-sounding” names like Damarcus.

That’s because preconceived notions about black-sounding names are not only racist but an indication of class bias. Unusually spelled names that have punctuation are associated with low socio-economic status — a factor that consciously or unconsciously biases teachers, employers and everyone in between. The assumption of low socio-economic status is specific to African-American names (or so-called ghetto black names), as opposed to names of African origin like Nia or Jelani.

But the nuance of individualized, African-American names goes deeper. The diversification of baby names in America started in the late 1960s during a larger sociocultural shift that emphasized individuality, and that’s where names for black and white Americans began to diverge. As black Americans began to give unique names to their children (much more so than white Americans), there was a sharp rise in the prevalence of distinctively black-sounding names — influenced at least in part by the championing of black culture by the Black Power movement.

African-American names became symbols of resistance. They resist uniformity and West European influence, and therefore the limiting cultural framework of how one should present his or herself. When minority individuals are prejudged on the basis of their names, it is because those names do not conform. And in order for diverse identities to be reclaimed as such, we must appreciate the ideology behind unique names and root out the stigmas about them.

And while nontraditional names are testaments to nonconformity, they do not signal combativeness or unacceptable personality fits. They signal the multitudes of different experiences that shape people of color, and increased knowledge of these experiences can be wielded to combat bias.

Source: Appreciate the History of Names to Root out Stigma – NYTimes.com

Glavin: Canadians have no reason to be smug about race | Ottawa Citizen

Interesting piece by Terry Glavin comparing the situation of African-Americans to Canadian Aboriginal people:

Things are going downhill, too. Over the past decade, the Aboriginal population in federal prisons has grown by more than 50 per cent. In Western Canada, two-thirds of the inmates in federal and provincial institutions are Aboriginal people.

About 28 per cent of African-Americans are stuck with something less than a high school education – half again higher than the rate among white people. In Canada, about 29 per cent of Aboriginal people have less than a high-school education, compared to 12 per cent of non-Aboriginal people.

While a third of African-American children entering high school will drop out – twice the rate of white kids – current drop-out rates indicate that more than half of Canada’s Aboriginal kids probably won’t finish high school. That’s a drop-out rate roughly six times higher than among non-Aboriginal kids.

On reserves, 74 per cent of schools are so dilapidated they lack such basic amenities as drinking water. More than half the schools function without a library, a gymnasium, a science laboratory, or a kitchen. Of Canada’s nearly 1.5 million Aboriginal people, about half are under 15 years of age.

“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Martin Luther King proclaimed all those years ago.

African-Americans might be forgiven for every once in a while losing patience with how long it’s taking that arc to fully bend towards them. For Canada’s young Aboriginal people, it’s not clear that the arc of the moral universe is even bending in their direction at all.

Glavin: Canadians have no reason to be smug about race | Ottawa Citizen.