Juice WRLD’s sudden death shocked America on Sunday, December 8. Juice, real name Jarad Higgins, died just six days after turning twenty one. He was pronounced dead at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Chicago after suffering a seizure at Chicago Midway Airport.
Unconfirmed reports from DailyMail and TMZ say that he began convulsing after taking a number of percocet pills to avoid police confiscation. DailyMail also reported the presence of 70lbs of the marijuana on the rapper’s private plane as well as codeine, three guns and high capacity ammunition as well as metal piercing bullets.
This most recent death is not an anomaly. It is part of a larger pattern of black male entertainers dying long before their time. For decades, homicide, drugs and disease have been responsible for a staggering number of premature deaths.
Just last year, in June of 2018, XXXTentacion was shot to death at just twenty years old.
Two of the most famous rappers of all time, Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. were murdered at twenty five and twenty four respectively; neither of their killers have ever been caught. Jimi Hendrix died in 1970 at age 27 of a barbiturate overdose. Eazy-E died in 1995 at 31 due to complications from HIV AIDS, just one month after receiving his diagnosis. Bob Marley was taken by melanoma at thirty six years old.
It is true that the phenomena of entertainers dying young is not unique to the black community. The premature deaths of well known musicians like Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Mac Miller, Amy Winehouse, Lil Peep and Avicii are a testament to that fact. However the early deaths of black male entertainers are indicative of a larger issue.
The American Public Health Association and US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health reported that, in 2011, “the life expectancy for White men was 76.6 years; for Black men it was 72.2 years; for White women it was 81.1 years; and for Black women it was 78.2 years.” The United States markets itself as the land of the free where equality reigns supreme, but clearly there are still prominent racial disparities.
This shortened life expectancy can be attributed to a number of different factors. The top ten leading causes of death in African American men according to the CDC are: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, homicide, stroke, diabetes, chronic lower respiratory disease, kidney disease, septicemia and hypertension.
Heart disease, cancer and hypertension are major concerns for Americans across all demographics. However, more and more, researchers are beginning to uncover how systemic racism negatively affects health. These disparities in health cannot be attributed to low income or lack of education because they remain even after those factors are taken into account. The culprit responsible for poor health in the black community and other minority groups is racial discrimination.
Amani Nuru-Jeter, a social epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley proposed a now popular hypotheses regarding the connection between discrimination and health consequences. In an article published by NPR the he explains that “chronic stress might be a key way racism contributes to health disparities. The idea is that the stress of experiencing discrimination over and over might wear you down physically over time.” Prolonged or frequent stress responses can negatively impact the body over time and even compromise the cardiovascular, endocrine and inflammatory systems which can leave the body more vulnerable to a wide host of additional health concerns.
Due to the fact that it is almost impossible to objectively measure the severity of racism or quantify the negative effects of discrimination, researchers cannot define an exact cause and effect relationship. However, there have been thousands of studies which link, with some certainty, racial discrimination and poorer health accompanied by worsened quality of life.
Additionally, it is important to note that for black men, homicide is the fourth highest cause of death in America, whereas for white men, homicide does not crack the top ten. Even more concerning, for black men ages 1-44, homicide is the number 1 leading cause of death in America.
These increased rates of homicide cannot be so easily attributed to racism induced stress the way disease and chronic illness have been. However these frequent occurrences of murder can still be linked to systemic racism and discrimination. Black young men are often not given the same resources as other groups of young people which jeopardizes their chances of learning and growing up in a safe environment. Living in constant fear of your personal safety can understandably make anyone more likely to pull the trigger.
Furthermore, racial discrimination is showing to dramatically impact the health of children. Multiple studies have found that black women who have experienced discrimination give birth to infants with lower than average birth weights. This can happen if pregnant women have increased levels of cortisol. Cortisol is often considered the “fight or flight” hormone which spikes in times of fear or stress. A similar study saw an increase in Latino infants being born prematurely after Trump was elected into office. The findings of that study are reportedly also part of a larger trend of increased poor health outcomes for Latino patients during the Trump administration.
Racism has also been attributed to increased instances of depression, poorer sleep habits, increased rates of obesity, low self-esteem and increased vulnerability to illness in children.
The fact that the health of children is being compromised from birth puts future generations at risk to suffer the same fate, or worse, than the generation before them. The cycle will continue and health conditions will not improve baring significant intervention. .
So where does that leave us? The culture of fear and hatred which is now deeply embedded into American society is actively killing black people. It’s not just nameless people counted in statistics. It is American icons and entertainers.
Even still, many cannot grasp the severity of this issue. Beloved artists are mourned for days to weeks and then forgotten. Death has become over saturated in the news and day to day life. Americans can no longer afford to feel the pain of loss; it is too overwhelming. Instead we forget and move on. Our self preservation allows the deaths to continue. I do not know what, but something must change. Human life is too valuable for everyone to collectively allow death to continue.