Black Panther’s Sad Lesson

Black Men’s Cancer Fatalism Is Killing

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman

We are shocked by the loss of Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and James Brown. Black Panther made him a global sensation, bringing self-empowerment to millions of persons of color, particularly children, who could finally see a super hero who looked like them. He died of cancer, aged 43, which is too young by all standards, at home in Los Angeles with his wife and family by his side. But he will always live eternally as a celluloid hero.

Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago but had not made the information public. However, fans started raising concerns over his health this year due to noticeable weight loss. Colo-rectal cancer is almost always curable in its early stages, which is why testing is important.


Black men are more likely to die from colo-rectal cancer than other men. They are more likely to get it and have a more advanced form when detected. In addition, the diets of Black men are more likely to contain chemical toxins in their foods while lacking protective nutrients. And their ability to care for themselves is impaired by lack of access to health care.


Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. That is why testing is important. But Black men won’t help themselves.

The big factor is anal-probe fears. Yet it is only through a full endoscopy, requiring sedation, that all portions of the intestine can be scanned for polyps before they become cancerous.

African American “men in our focus group study and men in other studies have said, ‘I do not want any sort of procedure where I have to have any sort of instrument that’s placed into my behind,’” Dr. Fola May, assistant professor of medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles and a researcher at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told KCRW in its three-part series on colon cancer among African Americans. “And that was a persistent theme throughout our focus group studies and we’ve seen it in the literature and in other people’s work as well.”


Obesity, tobacco and living in food wastelands lacking adequate fresh fruits and produce with vitamins C and E but shelves filled with red and processed meats is killing off Black men early. Processed meats with nitrite are especially dangerous to colon health. They become even more toxic in the absence of adequate antioxidants. And why should he care if he’s going to die early anyway?

Despair as a mindset kills. If it’s bad for anybody who is aging, it can be worse for African American men, Dr. Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research for Cedars Sinai, told KCRW in its series.

Many Black men feel that they’re going to die early anyway and very likely from cancer. They have a sense of fatalism that is just there from the chains that are linked to only three or fourgenerations ago. Black men say F it sometimes and close off to knowing more. They put fear ahead of science.

“This idea of cancer fatalism, we found is more common in African-Americans than in other racial and ethnic groups,” Dr. Spiegel told KCRW.

Further complicating all this for Black men is lack of affordable health care. African Americans account for about nine percent of the Los Angeles county population, but 26 percent are uninsured. Doctors are less likely to recommend Black men get a colonoscopy. Yet, that simple encouragement increases a Black man’s chances of being screened, which should start at least by age 45, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. Perhaps that recommendation needs to be lowered at age 35 in Black men with genetic susceptibility to cancer. But, of course, that kind of help for Black men would require getting them health care. That’s the first impediment because that would relieve the second: knowledge, education, learning, the things that free all men and women.

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