In his song “All Black Everything”, Lupe Fiasco, the latest in a long tradition of “conscious” hip-hop artists who use the medium to discuss important social problems, paints his listeners a world in which slavery never existed. While not always historically plausible, the imagery is vivid, with lines like, “The Constitution written by W.E.B DuBois/”; “Ahmedinajad wins the Mandela Peace Prize”; and Malcolm Little dies as an old man/ Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him.”
Lupe’s vision mirrors the conceptual approach epidemiologists use to think through causes of disease, imagining a world where some potentially bad thing didn’t exist and then using available data to infer what the differences between that world and the one we actually live in might be.
Racial inequalities in health persist across almost every relevant metric with which health scientists are concerned. In some parts of the country, blacks die nearly eight years earlier, on average, than their white counterparts just nearby. While scientists can’t explain all of this difference, its clear that discrimination—and the role it plays in allocating important resources, like money, education, and power—is an important part of the problem.
Much of that begins with our country’s difficult history of slavery, which set the social norms of inequality and marginalization of blacks that have since allocated resources between blacks and whites so unevenly. While Lupe doesn’t discuss it, imagine what the health of African Americans would look like in a world without slavery.
Edited by Jordan Lite. Additional research by Lauren Weisenfluh.