Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed the Black icons Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get on Up before finding international fame with superhero Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is no more. The actor had been diagnosed with colon cancer and passed away on Friday.
Boseman had never spoken publicly about his diagnosis. However, in April this year, fans expressed their concern when some pictures of his dramatic weight loss surfaced on internet.
As news of his death and diagnosis spread, emotionally charged messages poured in from every nook and cranny of the world. Even politicians like former US President Barrack Obama and politician Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to express their heartfelt condolence.
Clinton, however, spoke up about something rather important, yet frequently ignored.
In a tweet, Clinton wrote, “Colon cancer has taken too many young Black men too soon. I’m heartbroken for Chadwick Boseman’s family and friends, and for everyone who saw themselves in his roles. He was a hero on screen and off. Sending comfort to everyone grieving."
Colon cancer has taken too many young Black men too soon. I’m heartbroken for Chadwick Boseman’s family and friends, and for everyone who saw themselves in his roles. He was a hero on screen and off. Sending comfort to everyone grieving.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 29, 2020
Many found it strange that Clinton spoke about colon cancer in black individuals, and were quick to call her tweet racist. Some even lashed out at her for being divisive and discriminatory.
Hillary…. why say younge BLACK men ? The thought of cancer taking ANYONE of any colour is heart breaking.— Lynette (@Lynette24517948) August 29, 2020
Unfortunately Clinton brought politics in to it with her first ‘selective’ sentence. Shame in her. BRW, I already gave my condolences and left the ‘race’ issue out of it. Disheartening, and sad, for all the families who have lost loved ones to this disease.— mary french (@ukgirlinsf) August 29, 2020
Can we all agree cancer is a terrible disease that has taken the lives of too many people? Why does this have to be about race?— Bo Hodges (@Bo_Hodges5) August 29, 2020
Here’s the thing — Clinton is not wrong. African Americans are, in fact, at greater risk for colon cancer than others and there’s scientific evidence to prove it.
According to data, about 140,000 African Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer every year and around 50,000 die from the deadly disease. In a blog, Dr. Fola May, assistant professor of medicine at UCLA, explained that African Americans are not only at greater risk for colon cancer, they also have less chances of survival. This is because by the time people are diagnosed, the cancer is already in an advanced stage which makes them more likely to die from it.
Based on a report by the American Cancer Society, African Americans have the highest death rate in any racial or ethnic group in the United States for most types of cancers. For colon cancer, often called colorectal cancer, the incidence in US among black men is 24% higher than white men. The death rate is 47% higher in black men.
This study on colorectal cancer in African Americans offers a deeper insight into why this happens. The colon runs down the right side of the body and after going down the left side ends with the rectum. Now sometimes, polyps develop in the colon. Some are benign, but some end up being malignant. A report by US News says that this is the fourth most common kind of cancer in the country, and can be treated if detected in the earlier stages. The detection is usually done through a colonoscopy, which involves inserting a tiny camera through the rectum. Sounds painful, but you’re usually under anesthesia when it happens.
Now African American males tend to develop the polyps deeper in the colon, making it difficult to detect.
The report also highlights a few reasons why so many African Americans die from a cancer which could easily be treated, provided it got diagnosed early.
One of the major factors is lack of screening. Despite the huge risk, only a fraction of African Americans are likely to get tested or screened for the cancer. A study also suggests that a majority of black males often refuse to undergo colonoscopy. Poor knowledge and a lack of awareness about colon cancer could also be why lesser African Americans opt for early screening, a move that could potentially save millions of lives.
The American Cancer Society recommends regular screening for colon and rectal cancer from the age of 45.
Of course, bias and racial disparities in African Americans getting access to basic healthcare has a role to play. Black people in the US do not receive the same standard and quality of healthcare that their white counterparts receive.
While Boseman is likely to have received quality healthcare, thousands of African Americans in the US today may not even be aware that they could be having a potentially fatal condition. Clinton’s tweet was not racist, it was not divisive — instead it threw light on an important issue which needs to be talked about and addressed.