As Congress argues about health care reform, within sight of the Capitol, African American babies are dying at three times the rate of white babies born in the U.S. Nationwide, African-American women are 35% more likely to die of heart disease than white women, and 28 percent of Latinos report having little or no choice in where to seek care. Only 15 percent of whites report this difficulty.
Although we have a good start at addressing America's "medical apartheid," it's troubling that these issues have not been at the forefront of the reform discourse. The first and most glaring reason for why race has not been discussed is the controversy-mongering and policy-apathetic traditional media, with cable news channels especially muddying debate. Maybe the lack of discussion is yet another casualty of the post-racial America myth. If Sen. Ted Kennedy were a part of the debate this year, he would undoubtedly raised concerns about racial inequities in American health care. But instead, we have a different set of senators guiding the deliberations.
I don't doubt this, but I think there's another reason why this isn't coming up--there really isn't much to be gained from highlighting race. I've written some about the very visible effects of poor health here in Harlem. So, I'm certainly not blind to it. But from a black perspective, there simply isn't much incentive to make a moral appeal to the broader country. The past forty years have convinced me, rightly or wrongly, that most of this country doesn't actually believe that the race gap is a moral failing.
To the contrary, painting an effort as specifically, or disproportionately, helping people of color is doing your adversary's work for him. I don't think it's too much to say that a significant portion of this country thinks that we've done quite enough for the blacks. In a climate where people are already calling HCR "reparations," I'm just not sure how it helps to point out what we already know.
It really goes back to the lessons of Obama's run for president, and how he handled race. He wasn't unaware of what was happening--but there really wasn't much to be gained from him loudly discussing it. There's nothing wrong with marching quietly--as long as you're actually marching.