|Myrtle Grove Cemetery, Opelousas, Louisiana.|
There's a good chance that if you're brown and you live in Opelousas, you'll die 15 years sooner than your white neighbors.
How do I know this?
Soon after I moved to Opelousas, a couple of events got me looking at local obituaries.
I looked at the obituaries of two local funeral homes: Sibille and Williams. The first thing I noticed is that Sibille is the funeral home for white folks and Williams is the funeral home for those of color.
Over time, as I periodically visited the obituary listings, it seemed that the ages of death over on the Williams obituary page were notably younger than those at over at the Sibille page. This was odd.
To test this perception, I looked at all of the obituaries at Sibille and Williams for the people who died in October and November 2015:
- White: average age of death = 79.36 years
- Brown: average age of death = 63.67 years
- 79.36 minus 63.67 = 15.69 average difference in age
OK, what about outliers? Brown people who died extraordinarily young and white people who lived well into their 90s? They skewed the average for these two months, yes?
I crunched the numbers again, this time tossing out the oldest white decedent and the youngest brown decedent. Results:
- White: average age of death = 78.24 years
- Brown: average of death = 65.0 years
- 78.24 minus 65.0 = 13.24
In this adjustment, Opelousas residents of color died THIRTEEN years younger than their white neighbors, still shocking.
Now I needed a control group, so I looked at deaths in central Missouri, whence I came, using two funeral homes there: Millard Family Funeral Chapels and May Funeral Home. Unlike Sibille and Williams in Opelousas, there is some integration of services at Millard and May, but there is still a strong bias in the clientele served. Generally, Millard's clients are white. Generally, May's clients are brown.
Results for October and November 2015 in mid-Missouri:
- White: average age of death (served by Millard) = 72.85 years, after excluding the oldest and youngest decedents
- African-American: average age of death (served by both Millard and May) = 60.17 years after excluding the oldest and youngest decedents
- 72.85 minus 60.17 = 12.68 years average difference in age upon death
So from a slice of mid-Missouri, African-American decedents died an average of TWELVE AND HALF YEARS younger than their white neighbors.
Note: In the Missouri sample, there was what seemed to be an aberrational number of infants who died (at least I hope it was aberrational), both white and black. So for the Missouri comparison, I excluded the oldest individual and the youngest individual in both white and African-American groups.
Side note: Jesus. Why are mid-Missourians, generally, dying so young? And it's astounding to compare the average age of African-American deaths in mid-Missouri to average age of white deaths in the Opelousas area - almost TWENTY years difference!
Centuries of institutional racism have a long, long reach.
But maybe you think that I happened to choose two months in a particular year that were non-representational of the facts. Wonderful! By all means, please dig deeper. Please do.