Skin Cancer Myths and the African-American Community

African Americans are more likely to die from melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — than are whites. That has commentator John McCann concerned that blacks need to pay more attention to sun exposure.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ED GORDON, host:

How many times have you heard that black people don't get skin cancer? Well, not only is that not true, but African-Americans are more likely to die from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, than are whites.

Commentator John McCann says black Americans need to do more to protect themselves.

Mr. JOHN MCCANN (Columnist for the Herald-Sun, in Durham, North Carolina): Don't take this the wrong way, but we may very well have this gas thing all wrong. See, this goes back to when I was a little kid, and momma used to slick me down with Vaseline. Have me looking like patent leather. I mean, if momma was still greasing me down today and somebody asked me what color I was, I wouldn't say black, I'd say, bling! That's how shiny I was.

Ha, you too, huh? You're momma slicked you down too, talking about, baby, it's going to keep your skin pretty. And since the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I know those of you with kids are slicking them down with Vaseline and lotion and baby oil, and no doubt, you're still greasing yourself up every day. I mean, despite how hot it is right now with this heat wave, about 100 degrees anywhere you go, black people all over this country will lotion up before leaving the house. Got to get rid of that ash.

And what I'm getting at is how we blame SUVs and George W. Bush and big oil for high gas prices, but has it ever occurred to you that black people might have something to do with three dollars for a gallon of unleaded? I mean, think about all of the petroleum-based products we're pouring on and rubbing in our skin. And yet we won't use sunscreen.

See, we've got grown folks using Baby Magic to make their skin feel like a one-year-old's. There's that thick, Keri lotion for those with real ashy knees and elbows. Or if you're skin is really dry, there's that Palmer's Cocoa Butter that comes in a jar, and you don't squeeze it out, but you dip your fingers in and scoop it and slap it on. Or maybe you're one of those people who put baby oil on like you're planning to go out in the sun and sauté yourself. Yet talk to a brother or a sister girl about using sunscreen and they're like, what're you telling me about sunscreen for? I ain't white.

But let me tell you what the people at the American Cancer Society told me. Black folks get sunburned too. You know how you can be out I the sun for a minute and you come back in and your auntie or your cousin or somebody will say, woo, child, you done got black! It means you've been sunburned. Instead of turning red like fairer-skinned people, dark-complexioned folks get blacker.

Now, just to show you how silly it is to be racist or prejudiced because of somebody's skin color, have you ever thought about how black people do all they can to find some shade and avoid anything that will make them blacker, while white people actually go hunting for the sun, and put on suntan lotion to baste and broil themselves in order to get darker.

But try as we might to avoid the sun, black people are at risk too. And see, all we talk about in the black community is stuff like preventing HIV and AIDS, and laying off them pork chops to curb high blood pressure. Which is important, don't get me wrong. But did you know that melanoma, the most common and most severe form of skin cancer, is deadliest in black people? And it's nothing twisted like the Tuskegee experiment or a matter of socioeconomic disparities in the medical care of black people. What we have instead as a collective of black people is the mentality that we just don't get skin cancer. Talking about, we got melanin in our skin, child!

So what happens is black people often don't even think to look for the telltale signs of skin cancer, like large and irregular moles, and by the time something is detected its too late. Now, one of the ways to prevent skin cancer is by using sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF rating of 15 or higher. So by all means, lotion up. I mean, you know how we do, shaking the bottle and squeezing it to get out the last little bit.

Just keep in mind that it's those really bad sunburns that could end up killing you, not ashy skin.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: John McCann is a columnist for the Herald-Sun, in Durham, North Carolina.

(Soundbite of music)

This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.