Tag Archives: slavery

Why The US Doesn’t Have Universal Health Care – It Is Not What You Think

Landing Negroes at Jamestown from Dutch man-of-war, 1619.

Yesterday, The Sunday New York Times Magazine ran a series of articles titled, The 1619 Project.

According to the Times:

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to re-frame the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

As a student of American history, I was fully exposed to the current literature of the time regarding slavery, slaveholders, and the impact it had on the African-American culture and people, through my introduction to such historians as Eric Foner, Eugene Genovese, Leon Higginbotham, and John Blassingame, as well as from my three African-American/Sociology courses as an undergraduate.

So, I believe that this series by the Times, is not only needed, but timely, given the racial animus we see day after day from the White House, the far right, and on the Internet.

Readers of this blog  have seen that I have advocated on behalf of Medicare for All/Single Payer, because of the many causes for our broken health care system.  However, it  is not solely based on economics, politics, or defending the profits of the insurers and pharmaceutical companies. But rather due to race, as Jeneen Interlandi writes.

According to Interlandi, the first federal health care program served freedmen after the Civil War, but white legislators argued that it would breed dependence.

This health care program, the medical division of the Freedmen’s Bureau addressed the health care crisis due to the smallpox virus spreading across the post-war South. And according to Jim Downs, white leaders were worried about black epidemics spilling into their communities, and wanted the former slaves to be healthy enough to go back to the plantation. However, they feared that free and healthy African-Americans would upend the racial hierarchy.

Interlandi describes how whenever there was some move to deal with health care, there was always some backlash or outright ignoring of the solutions to the problems facing the south in the post-war period and Reconstruction. Not only that, but when federal social programs were introduced, Southern Democrats (yes, but now they would be, and are Republicans) forced concessions to bar African-Americans from receiving the benefits of those programs, or the AMA barred black doctors, medical schools excluded black students, and most hospitals and clinics segregated black patients.

There is the story of the African-American doctor who discovered blood types, and died because he was refused admittance to a hospital because he was black. This story was brought to the attention of viewers of MASH when the subject of race was part of that episode’s plot.

In college, I wrote a paper on the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment that exposed African-American men to syphilis to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis; the African-American men in the study were only told they were receiving free health care from the United States government.[3]

So those of you who oppose single payer health care should stop and consider if being the only nation in the Western world to not provide its citizens with universal health care should continue to be based on racial prejudice or simply because you want to profit by not doing so.