The Racial Health Gap

We all know that health care in the United States is in crisis.
Some 40 million people currently go without insurance. And the
‘lucky’ among us who are insured contend with a dizzying labyrinth
of paperwork and daunting costs. Such are the flashpoints cited by
politicians on the campaign trail, when they manage to toss off a
few lines about health care. The widening racial disparities that
exist within America’s health care system rarely get a mention.

Conventional thinking would suggest that economic factors play
the biggest role in determining the quality of health care. But
according to renowned sociologist David Williams, in an interview
with the
American Prospect, socioeconomic
factors can best be understood when looking at race, too. As an
example, Williams states that when it comes to many health care
indicators, such as infant mortality rates and birth weight,
‘the best-off African Americans are doing more poorly than the
worst-off whites.’

This disparity in health care amounts to a kind of ‘new racism’
that dates back to the civil rights era, says Tarso Luis Ramos,
research director of Political Research Associates, quoted by Kai
Wright in the magazine
ColorLines. Ramos argues that
conservative politicos are trying to institutionalize racism in
health care by claiming the system should be ‘colorblind.’ The
idea, according to Ramos, is to ‘naturaliz[e] these disparities,
so that society itself bears no responsibility.’

As an example, Wright points to a 2003 federal report — the
National Healthcare Disparities Report. A leaked draft of that
document explains that the report ‘clearly demonstrates that
racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities are national
problems.’ But when the report was filtered through the office of
then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thomson (now a
candidate for president), the language was watered down to say
‘while most Americans receive exceptional quality of health care?
some socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic differences exist.’

In the upcoming presidential elections, politicians will
undoubtedly continue to posture on health care. Meanwhile the
racial disparity in health care continues to widen. In the
interview with the American Prospect, Williams states that
the black infant death rate is currently 2.4 times higher than that
of whites. These inequalities, according to Williams, ‘are harming
not just the health of the individual but the society more
broadly.’

Go there >>
Health in Black and White

Go there, too >>
The ‘Colorblind’ Attack on Your Health

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