10 Reasons African Americans Should March on Washington About Health Care

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Never mind Joe Wilson and the tea baggers. You know who really ought to be breaking congressional decorum and marching on Washington about health care? Black people. We ought to be so angry about the disastrous health care system that we disrupt society at every level until it gets fixed.

Why? Well, don’t expect our post-race president to make the point, but nowhere are the festering wounds of race in America more visible than in our broken health care system. From cancer to infant mortality,  its disparate outcomes across racial lines are staggering.


Right-wing advocates worked hard during the Bush years to frame them as the results of individual choices, and surely, we all need to do a far better job of taking care of ourselves. But it’s also plain that racial disparities in health cut too profoundly across too many illnesses to be dismissed as solely about bad behavior. You name the illness, and blacks are more likely to get it and less likely to survive with it.

Here’s a list of ills to boil your blood and get you shouting at your own congressional representatives.

10 reasons black people should be mad as hell about the health care status quo. 

1. Uninsured. Forty percent of black Americans reported being uninsured for some portion of 2007-2008, compared to 1 in 4 whites. And it’s not just about income, nearly a quarter of blacks making more than $84,000 a year lacked coverage at some point, compared to 16 percent of whites in that income bracket. 


2. Early death. If black America were its own country, it would rank 105th in the world for life expectancy, behind places like Algeria, the Dominican Republic and Sri Lanka. We’re barely in the developing world.

3. Infant mortality. Black infants are 2.5 times more likely to die than white newborns. Again, if black America were its own country, we’d rank 88th in infant mortality rates. (Hat tip to my Black AIDS Institute colleagues for the global comparisons.)


4. Cancer. It’s the second-leading cause of death in America, but that means more to some than others—the black male death rate is 37 percent higher than whites and the black female rate is 17 percent higher.

5. Breast and cervical cancer. Black women are twice as likely to die from cervical cancer as whites and while breast cancer deaths are dropping for whites, black women continue to die at higher rates than anybody else. Why? No preventive care to catch cancer early enough to treat it.


6. Diabetes. America is in the throes of a diabetes epidemic, but it’s raging like nowhere else among blacks, particularly black women, who have a higher rate than any other group. Worse, both black men and women are much more likely to be hospitalized, disabled and killed by diabetes once they have it.

7. Heart disease. It’s the nation’s leading killer and leading disabler—and racks up some $300 billion a year in health costs. Surprise, surprise—blacks have more of it and get it younger than anybody else.


8. HIV/AIDS. Blacks account for a whopping half of all those living with HIV today, 45 percent of those newly infected each year and about half of all deaths. At this point, it’s basically a black epidemic.

9. STDs. An unprecedented study last year found 48 percent of all black teenage girls tested had a sexually transmitted infection. Damn near half. Which helps explain the HIV data, since untreated STDs facilitate the spread of HIV.


10. Downward spiral. All of this is getting worse as time drags on. Between the civil rights movement and today, black people have improved our lot in life by just about every score—education, income, occupation. All except the one that matters most: living to see old age. The gap between black and white mortality rates has actually increased by a third since 1960. If that’s not enough to piss us off, I don’t know what is.

Kai Wright is The Root’s senior writer.

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