I’m only 44, feeling like 72

The shortened life expectancy of the Black man.

Growing up a Black man in America, seeing death is common. Let me be specific. Seeing murder is common. We talk about it as an everyday facet of life. I was blessed. I didn’t know anyone to be murdered until I was 16.

There’s been countless others since.

But this is different.

When my brother Isma’il Latif asked me, “Phife dead?” early Wednesday morning (the 23rd of March), I almost felt numb. Not in the not feeling sense, but in the hopeless sense.

Why are so many Black men dying at an early age?

I found it hard to believe back when I heard that Heavy D passed. I was approaching 40 and to see someone die, not because of a drug overdose, not because of an accident, but for “undisclosed reasons,” really hit home.

When you roll up on your 40s, your Doctor (and if you’re married, your spouse)begins admonishing you about your health. Check your blood pressure, check your cholesterol, check your prostate — all of these things become important.

According to the CDC, the life expectancy of the Black man (in America) is at 71.8 years old, which unto itself, is five years shorter than the white man (in America). The quality of life isn’t mentioned in that or the U.S. News & World Report of 2015 that reported on the CDC’s findings. Based on seeing my and other folks’ families, I can’t imagine that Black people living life into the 70s is even remotely close to living to that age as a white person. Most Black folk I know that “live” to be that age, do so in pain and discomfort.

But 44 is a far cry from 70 anything.

A year later, the rap world was shook up by the apparent suicide of Chris Lighty. Reports say that he was arguing with his ex-wife, shortly thereafter, a single gunshot was heard and he was found dead. Though the family and close friends question whether or not Lighty committed suicide, the fact remains, he’s no longer with us.

Since then, there’s been a succession of deaths: Mac Daddy (37), Father Shaheed (45), DJ EZ Rock (46), Pumpkinhead (39), Sean Price (43), DJ Big Kap (45), and now Phife (45). Some of these deaths have been accidents, others overdoses, and then there’s the diseases and unexplained deaths. Again, the fact remains, they are no longer with us.

That’s just the past five years.

Expanding that search over ten years gave us a more bleak picture: Dilla (32), Pimp C (33), MC Breed (37), Baatin (39), Apache (45), and Guru (48) — no one living beyond 50.

Keep in mind, we’re only talking about “celebrities.” I’m sure a look into our own lives will show similar patterns.

What’s going on?

Yes, diet plays a role. We are more apt to eat processed and overly sweet foods. This leads to the cancerous and diabetic deaths. But we are also self-medicating ourselves to death, stressing ourselves to death, and simply giving up on life.

I don’t have the answers — a healthy life lived with purpose is the general solution. But the obstacles in front of us: high unemployment, racial profiling, and the general sense that the Black man is neither needed nor wanted in this world makes that general solution seem like an unachievable goal.

Only thing I can tell you is at 44, I’m not ready to check out and InshAllah, I’m blessed to live another day. The people that were mentioned above made their mark on this world. I pray that more of us can too.