The Air Should Be Colorblind

December 08, 2014

Injustice comes in many forms. For the past several days, protestors across America have taken to the streets in outrage over a grand jury decision not to indict a New York City police officer for killing a black man. Eric Garner, who had asthma, was restrained with a choke hold and told officers repeatedly: "I can't breathe." Now those words have become the rallying cry for those fed up with an unfair system.

And they're appropriate on many levels. As the Washington Post points out in a recent headline, "The racial divide in America is this elemental: Blacks and whites actually breathe different air." The story points to research showing that minority communities are often closer to dump sites, highways, and polluting industries, which expose residents to much higher levels (38 percent) of nitrogen dioxide than the air in richer, often whiter, areas. 

Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant that can trigger asthma attacks and contribute to heart disease, so it's not a coincidence that blacks in this country are more likely to suffer from asthma than whites. "I can't breathe," indeed.

A comparison of how common asthma is in African Americans vs. Caucasians.

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