The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News February 23, 2007

Black History Month Lecture Focuses on Healthcare (In)Equality

“What is happening here in healthcare is not unlike what happened in South Africa, where the dominant power said there will be healthcare for us and healthcare for you,” said William T. Johnson in his Black History Month lecture, “Healthcare, Economics and Civil Rights: Recruiting Soldiers For The 21st Century Silent Battleground.”

“A lot of people just don’t know there are these disparities in health for Black America and that the source of such disparities have already been determined to be racism,” stated Johnson, who has extensive experience in law and healthcare.

“A black baby born at the same time as a white baby will live seven years less than that white baby,” he said.

As part of his lecture, Johnson stressed the importance of understanding history and the connection between current conditions and the experiences of the past. Recounting for his audience the medical establishment’s long record of mistreating black Americans, Johnson described the use of eugenics to justify the sterilization of blacks, the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study and plutonium experiments that employed human subjects.

“Black Americans have twice the mortality rate of white Americans,” reported a fact sheet distributed by Johnson. While Johnson said there was no single factor responsible for this inequality, Johnson did point out contributing causes.

He went on to criticize the tendency of premiere doctors not to accept Medicaid patients and the concentration in major urban areas of “international medical graduates.” Perhaps most worrying of all, said Johnson, was the impact that conscious or unconscious racial prejudice had on the treatment of patients.

 “Why aren’t these facts in the paper? Why aren’t they known? It is known, but it is not acknowledged,” Johnson said, commenting on public awareness of the plight of blacks seeking quality healthcare.

Johnson blamed the media for these flawed public perceptions, and contrasted the civil rights era coverage with contemporary media coverage. “A picture in the paper of a 90-year-old woman getting bit by dogs for her freedom might motivate a family far away,” he said. “[Modern media] does not show images like this.”

Johnson claimed that racially biased coverage of hurricane Katrina contributed to the negative images of blacks in popular culture. These images, he said, promoted “the idea of a culture unworthy of being maintained.”

Stereotypes such as these are especially dangerous in light of evidence suggesting that racial biases impact the decisions of medical professionals, he added.

“We’re allowing ourselves to be at the mercy of other people,” Johnson said. “If we aren’t in the battlefield, then the battle is taking place in silence. We cannot let family go to the hospital alone. If you’re not part of their salvation, you are as deadly as the system.”

Johnson warned, “The battlefield is silent, but it is very bloody.”


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