In light of Black History Month, I am reminded of the many ways black people in America have risen above the broken system put in place to deter them. This month we should reflect on the current state of Black Americans who are living inside this system.
A symptom of this broken system is the disproportionate number of Black women who die during childbirth.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that women in the United States are more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than other women in the developed world.
“More details are needed to better understand the actual causes of death, but research suggests that half of these deaths are preventable,” the study showed. “Racial disparities persist. The risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is three to four times higher than those of white women.”
What does this reveal to us when we take into consideration America spends more money on healthcare than any other nation? Data from the Commonwealth Fund shows that the United States spends more than $9,000 per person on health care, yet our life expectancy is ranked 12th compared to other countries like Japan, whose life expectancy age 83.
Black women die in childbirth because of a system that is broken and racist. In a Propublica partner story with NPR, racism was identified as a major force in the death of mothers. “For much of American history, these types of disparities were largely blamed on blacks’ supposed innate susceptibility to illness — their ‘mass of imperfections,’ as one doctor wrote in 1903 — and their own behavior. But now many social scientists and medical researchers agree, the problem isn’t race but racism.”
Racism is a factor of death among Black women giving birth; racism is also the cause of several other obstacles faced by the black community.
A 2016 study by the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company indicated white families hold 90 percent of the national wealth, Latino families hold 2.3 percent and black families hold 2.6 percent.
“Not only that, the Great Recession hit minority families particularly hard, and the wealth gap has increased,” the study said. “Think about this: while median wealth for a single white woman in the US is $41,000, the median wealth for a black woman is $100. And for single latinas it’s $120. That’s almost unbelievable—and it’s a huge racial issue.”
A 2011 Pew research study showed Black people are two times as likely to be unemployed. The study explained, “One common explanation, as William A. Darity Jr. of Duke University told Salon is black people are ‘the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there’s a downturn, they’re the first to be released.’”
In September of last year the New York Times published an article which showed Black families in America earn $57.30 for every $100 a white family earns.
“Americans believe that blacks and whites are more equal today than they truly are on measures of income, wealth, wages and health benefits. And they believe more historical progress has occurred than is the case, suggesting a profound misperception of and unfounded optimism regarding racial equality,” the article said.
America has stacked the cards against people of color since the abolition of slavery. The Trail of Tears, and many other defining historical points have helped shape America into a divisive and exclusive country that benefits primarily white people.
The systems like housing which was desegregated years ago but boundaries are still set for people of color, especially black people, when buying a home. The Washington Post recorded, “The [redlining] maps promoted residential development by indicating which neighborhoods and potential borrowers were eligible for the generous mortgage assistance programs of the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration. And by carefully recording neighborhoods’ ethnic and racial makeup, they provided literal road maps for the realtors, lenders, and public officials who oversaw and financed decades of racial exclusion in the American housing market. Federal mortgage programs made homeownership affordable for the majority of households, for the first time in the nation’s history. But because the programs refused to support lending in racially integrated neighborhoods and in most minority neighborhoods, the lion’s share of benefits after World War II went to whites, who became the primary homeowning class in the nation’s fast-growing suburbs.”
Because of what is called “White flight” many black American homeowner’s property value has stayed lower than those in white neighborhoods. This in turn causes the funding of things like public education to be significantly lower than suburban white neighborhoods.
Capitalism as a whole has shaped inequality in America, leaving minorities at the bottom tier. These systems of inequality were initially created for those who were free in America upon its conception. We have yet to change these systems to benefit all people.
So I ask you today, when you think about Black History month, to remember Black people and other minorities are still not entirely free. Black people still cannot drive without fear of being murdered. Black people and their allies cannot peacefully protest without being killed by a White supremacist plowing through the crowd. Black people are still disadvantaged by a system put in place by slave owners.
During Black History Month I implore you to think about whether or not the current systems put in place are helping any minority. Take into account the predisposition of the Black and Native communities, and their shortcomings in America. Sure, we could look at what plagues the two communities, or all minority communities, and use those problems as an explanation for their poverty and life expectancy.
However, you would be looking at the symptoms of racism rather than the cause of their disadvantage. For Black people and other minorities poverty is caused by the systems in place that affect their schools, in their neighborhoods funded by property tax, the lack of affordable healthcare, and the prison system jails non-violent offenders more than violent offenders who happen to be mostly Black men.
What is the fix for this discrimination? We cannot alienate each other because of these differences. There is a lot of racial and political tension in these times, but we have to come together as the human race and acknowledge past and current systemic issues. When we acknowledge systemic racism we begin to find out how to fix the systems through policy and community. White people have to speak out against racism within their communities, and push for political leaders who also acknowledge America’s systemic racism.
Only then can we pave the path of equality for all.