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Race Matters: We Need Health Care Reform to Help End the Racial Legacy of Health Disparities


Last week or so, marked the one year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act. Turns out, a poll found that half of Americans didn't know it was already a law.


But with people of color representing 50 percent of the uninsured in America, the new law stands to represent the biggest social movement to impact our communities since civil rights.

But will it solve the health disparity issues that continue to plagues African Americans?

A few months ago, I attended the Families USA conference in Washington, D.C., where among other distinguished speakers, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, spoke live addressing the conference attendees.

The president eloquently spoke of the benefits of the act, which has already dismantled that pesky "pre-existing condition" clause, which forced millions of Americans to be uninsurable by deep-pocketed insurance companies and caused thousands of others to die because of it. He was candid about the flaws in the law and reiterated his willingness to make changes in some areas.

As a self-employed mother of two who has struggled with my own health insurance issues, I listened intently to the debate that preceded the current law. And the still unfolding drama since it became law—and I just couldn't figure out why there was so much vehement dialogue against health care reform.

Was it really debatable that our system needed a major overhaul?

Having lived in London, England, and having experienced their medical care for myself and my children, I couldn't really understand what was the real problem with a universal health care system. Or with creating more options and lower costs. Not the political excuses and grandstanding, but the real issues. Especially since most of the most vocal objectors have some of the best health coverage this country has to offer. Lucky them.

The answer came to me at the conference in a dynamic panel discussion led by an extremely passionate woman–Gail Christopher, vice president for health at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

After sharing her personal story of arriving at a hospital to deliver a baby only to be left in the corner because someone just assumed she was a black woman on Medicaid, she said something so simple, yet true: "Where you stand is often based on where you sit."

It took all my strength not to jump out of my seat with an uncharacteristic, "You said it, sister!!"

I clapped instead.

But where most detractors "sit" is at the table of the haves with little concern for the have-nots and a lot of selective amnesia.

They've forgotten that this country got its haves by raping, killing and stealing from the people of color they found when they got here. They forget that their history of racism and segregation, left blacks concentrated in communities with severe health risks and without access to any remedies.

They choose to ignore the cumulative impact of this racial legacy and the scores of women and vulnerable children it disproportionately impacts.

They forget about environmental racism, doctor deserts, food deserts and other gaping holes that have created and maintained a systemic inequity in access to health care.

An inequity and legacy that plays out every day in high maternal mortality and infant mortality rates and poor birth outcomes in black women across all socioeconomic levels, among others.

And multiple studies have already proven that people of color receive inferior care regardless of their insurance status or socioeconomic status. (I was happy to learn that the health care law has over 75 provisions to address equity issues, including more community based health care services.)

This is an important step in the right direction.

And so, unfortunately, like so many other issues in this country, it really comes down to race. Racial tensions in this country are getting worse, not better.

Everybody knows the true wealth of a nation is the health of its people. Yet, in this country any concept of a publicly supported health care system has a stigma of helping poor people. And by poor, they think lazy. So what if your children suffer? This stigma needs to be removed.

Politicians have pulled off a near-Reagan like maneuver duping Americans into believing who really benefits from the new health care act.

Every one benefits.

But the same patriotic, Federalist Papers-reading countrymen who "want their country back" should take a fast forward real look at the country they hold so dear. By 2042 it is estimated that one in four people will be a person of color. You can take the health care reform issue to the Supreme Court if you'd like, masking your political agenda in a baseless legal challenge. But we're all in this together, with our futures inextricably linked. And we are a constituency not to be ignored.

Because unfortunately for you, my memory is not like your memory.


In motherhood and better health,


2 Responses to “Race Matters: We Need Health Care Reform to Help End the Racial Legacy of Health Disparities”
  1. Olusola says:

    You hit the nail on the head sister. Selective amnesia is certainly a growing disease especially in the last 2 years

  2. It is very simple for the people who have never been through the trials of the horrible system of health care in this country, they don’t understand there will always be haves and have nots, but now there is just a small amount of haves and a larger amount of have nots and it’s becoming larger by the day. Most of the people who make the rules and the laws come for wealthy families and never had to choose between having healthcare for themselves and their children or having food, shelter, or lights. I have, and the problem is in the black community so many don’t vote, they don’t pay attention to these issues and they don’t think they can do anything to change them. Keep the people un-educated, because they can’t afford college, sick because the only thing they can afford is fast, horrible food and poor because there are no jobs. Until we as black people start to take note and hold politician’s feet to the fire, we will always be on the back burner with healthcare and every other financial decision made in politics.

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