As we look at the climate of American society today, we find that history is unfortunately repeating itself. In the midst of the healthcare debate, the dreadful truths of racism and classism have reared their ugly heads in ways we have not seen since the end of the modern civil rights era. Caricatures of President Barack Obama depicted as Hitler and compared to a monkey were displayed on protest signs and extremist blogs while he worked tirelessly to pass the Patient Affordable Care Act, which will provide health coverage for over 30 million Americans (of which 8 million are Black).
Systemic barriers exist in this country which has marginalized African-Americans for centuries. The unfortunate reality of health inequity has been a journey long traveled by Black Americans and other minorities. In 1899, W. E. B. DuBois wrote in the Philadelphia Negro, A Social Study, “One thing of course we must expect to find that is a much higher death rate at present among Negroes than among Whites: this is one measure of the difference in their social advancement. ” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “of all the forms of inequality and injustice, healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” It was as if these great scholars were alive today watching African Americans lose their battle to HIV/AIDS, obesity, diabetes, cancer and access to quality and affordable care.
The NAACP argues that in order to effectively address issues like our national priorities health reform implementation, HIV/AIDS and childhood obesity, one must identify the key social determinants that have grossly impacted African Americans more than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. The NAACP health department stands by the socio-ecological framework which recognizes the interwoven relationship that exists between the individual and their environment. The NAACP supports the “top-down effect” establishing that environmental effects help to shape behavior. Our unique mix of education, outreach programs, advocacy and direct action allow us to address racism, classism and YES sexism. It is unfortunate that the road toward total wellness for all Americans still depends on the color of your skin, your gender and quite frankly how much money you earn.
The time is now to speak out bold and loud against injustice in health. With the states of Florida and Virginia claiming the Affordable Care Act is “unjust”, it confirms the emanate need for freedom fighters in health to put on our boot straps again. The story will not change if we just focus on one level. Health Care for all stands on all of our shoulders at all levels. We must take personal responsibility, continue to provide community education, change those policies that can provide healthier environments, and take our communities back into our own hands. Relying on our roots of determination and self empowerment while guiding the next generations to keep the legacy alive will be our story. The question is what are you willing to do for a healthier community and a healthier future? The NAACP stands ready… join us.
Shavon L. Arline,
MPH is National Health Director for the NAACP