Racial Disparities in Health Take a Financial, Moral Toll

A new study by Thomas A. LaVeist (Professor in Health Policy and director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and Darrell J. Gaskin (professor of health economics in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Maryland) conducted for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank, found that:

between 2003 and 2006, 30.6 percent of medical care expenditures for African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics were excess costs that were the result of inequities in the health of these groups. Between 2003 and 2006, the combined direct and indirect cost of health disparities in the United States was $1.24 trillion (in 2008 inflation-adjusted dollars). This is more than the gross domestic product of India and equates to $309.3 billion annually lost to the economy.

This staggering financial toll is accompanied by a moral toll that is even more devastating.  As LaVeist and Gaskin note:

The large number of premature deaths among American racial and ethnic minority groups represents a substantial loss of human potential, a loss of talent and productivity that might otherwise have contributed to the betterment of society. By imposing a substantial burden on the economy, health disparities visit suffering on the entire society, not just the minorities who live sicker and die younger.

That, to my mind, is the central tragedy of racism – the loss of humanity, of human potential.   And, lest this spark another round of ‘it’s in the genes’ LaVeist and Gaskin go on to note:

There are some who believe that health disparities are due solely to genetic differences among racial groups or irresponsible behaviors among those who suffer higher rates of illness and death. However, this is not true. Health disparities are rooted in environmental and societal factors associated with poverty and discrimination. As the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation put it, health disparities have “more to do with your ZIP code than your genetic code.”

For all the people on this blog and in the wider public discourse who lament that we need to “do something” about ending racism and racial inequality, I would like to suggest that we do this: end racial disparities in health and see if that doesn’t go a long way toward eliminating other dimensions of inequality.

Facebook Racism Reaches New Low with Assassination Poll

I’ve written here before about the various permutations of Facebook racism. Over the weekend, it appears that Facebook racism reached a new low with a poll asking “should obama be killed?” Here’s the screen grab from TPM:


The response categories available for those who clicked on the poll to take it were: “yes, maybe, if he cuts my health care, no.”     The good news, if one were looking for it in this story, is that the poll has been removed from Facebook and, according to Greg Sargent at WhoRunsGov, the U.S. Secret Service is investigating.

So much for social media offering a new path to world peace and an end to racism.

The fact this sort of thing appeared on Facebook is connected to the rise in death threats against President Obama (up 400%) and the kind of vitriolic hate speech spewed by radio and tv-talk show hosts such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly.   This sort of speech creates an environment in which extremists are emboldened to act and ‘lone wolf’ assassins feel empowered by the collective hatred of the president.  This kind of speech is rooted in racism and clearly threatens the life of the president.  There can be no first amendment defense for such speech and legal action should be taken against those who created and published this poll.

Criminal Alien Program Results in Racial Profiling

“A top priority for ICE has been to target the “worst of the worst” in the illegal population—criminal aliens incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails; those who may pose a threat to national security or public safety” ICE Annual Report FY 2008 [pdf].

Sounds reasonable, right? Of course Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should ensure national security and public safety by deporting criminals. No wonder the Homeland Security Committee allocated $180 million to this program in 2008 to ensure that incarcerated non-citizens are deported.

However, a new report from the UC Berkeley Law School finds that ICE “is not following Congress’ mandate to focus resources on the deportation of immigrants with serious criminal histories.” Instead, it is encouraging local police to engage in racial profiling and to arrest and deport people who engage in minor infractions of the law such as kicking over traffic cones or public urination.

Racial Profiling? Under the Criminal Alien Program, local police have the authority to call immigration on anyone who they suspect to be undocumented. Turns out that Hispanics are the ones police are most likely to suspect are undocumented. In a study of arrest patterns in Irving, Texas, the UC Berkeley Law School found that 96% of the people held under this program were Hispanic. Moreover, police were more likely to arrest Hispanics for minor offenses once the city began to participate in the Criminal Alien Program.

Not all Hispanics are undocumented. In fact, most Hispanics living in the United States are legal permanent residents or citizens. In Irving, Texas, however, once police began to co-operate with ICE, discretionary arrests of Hispanics for minor traffic offenses rose dramatically.

In 2006, ICE began a partnership with the city of Irving, which enabled ICE to investigate the immigration status of people held at the Irving Jail. Under this partnership, if Irving police arrest someone they suspect to be undocumented, they contact ICE to determine their immigration status. Of course, police officers can’t tell someone’s immigration status just by looking at them. In fact, in September 2007, of the 269 individuals Irving police officers referred to ICE, only 186 were turned over to ICE. The others were lawfully present in the U.S.

“Worst of the Worst”? Most of the people detained under the Criminal Alien Program in Irving, Texas were arrested for misdemeanors. In fact, only 2 percent were charged with felonies. The Berkeley report provides “compelling evidence that the Criminal Alien Program tacitly encourages local police to arrest Hispanics for petty offenses.” For example, in Irving, Texas, in April 2007, ICE agents began to offer 24-hour access to their services to the local police. Immediately thereafter, the rate at which Irving police arrested Hispanics for minor arrests began to rise. In April 2007, Irving police arrested 102 Hispanics for Class C misdemeanors. That number rose continuously until September 2007, when they arrested 246 Hispanics for Class C misdemeanors – minor offenses for which the maximum fine is $500.

It looks like the $180 million Congress appropriated to ICE is not enhancing public safety. Instead, it is encouraging local police to arrest Hispanics for petty offenses and deporting people for offenses as minor as driving with a broken tail light.

This study of one city in Texas resonates with work I have been doing with deportees in Jamaica and Guatemala. Deportees I have spoke with consistently tell me that they were stopped by police for a minor offense and subsequently placed in deportation proceedings.

A deportee I met recently in Guatemala told me this is exactly why he does not plan to apply for re-admission to the United States, even though his daughter still lives in the US. He does not want to live in a country where he will be arrested for minor traffic violations and hassled by police on a regular basis. Who does?

[Note from blog admins: ~ This is a re-blog from here.  Professor Golash-Boza will be joining Racism Review as a regular contributor, writing about her research in Jamaica, Brazil, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic where she is interviewing people who have been deported from the U.S. for a book she is writing. ]

Cloaked Sites Key to Right-Wing Propaganda

I’ve got to give credit where credit is due and this week it goes to Rachel Maddow – who’s been doing a terrific job with her investigations into the right-wing propaganda machine.  On her show last night, she featured a devastating critique of Richard Berman, a Republican political operative profiled by CBS’s 60 Minutes as “Dr. Evil” for his willingness, even enthusiasm, for taking on politically regressive causes.  He’s the one behind the most recent attacks on ACORN, an organization that mostly does things like advocate for poor black and brown people, get poor people registered to vote, and lobby for raising the minimum wage.  Apparently, rich white people – like the ones that hire Berman – are very upset by this sort of activity.

Also featured in this segment is Peter Dreier, a professor of political science at Occidental College, who has a new research which demonstrates the way that the mainstream media bought into the lies that Berman put forward and missed getting out the accurate story about ACORN, including one finding that about 80% of news stories failed to report that ACORN itself was the group that reported irregularities in voting registration in the first place.

The part of this story that I wanted to call attention to is the bit about the websites that are key part of Berman’s strategy.   Maddow refers to them as “grass roots-ish” which is cute, but I’d like to respectfully suggest that she call these cloaked sites. Cloaked websites are published by individuals or groups who conceal authorship in order to deliberately disguise a hidden political agenda. In this way, these sites are similar to previous versions of print media propaganda, such as “black,” “white” and “grey” propaganda. In my latest book, Cyber Racism, I write extensively about how racist groups are using cloaked websites to further their goals to subvert civil rights and affirm white supremacy in covert ways.  I also write about the range of political movements that use cloaked websites in a recent article, “Cloaked websites: propaganda, cyber-racism and epistemology in the digital era,”  in the journal New Media & Society. While not the exclusive purview of the right-wing, it does seem that the right is amplifying their use of this technique.

Cloaked sites are a key piece of the propaganda machine that Berman is operating, and they’re incredibly hard-to-detect and perniciously effective according to my research.     According to this site which seeks to expose Berman, he has been the force behind dozens of cloaked sites, including “RottenAcorn.com” and anti-ACORN site that disguises the real authorship behind something called “Employment Policies Institute” which is a front group that Berman runs.   Maddow mentions a couple of others, such as “UnionFacts.com” (with very similar graphics to the previous site) an anti-labor union site, again with the true authorship disguised in order to advance a hidden political agenda.   And, “MercuryFacts.org” a cloaked pro-fishing-industry site that disguises its authorship and corporate agenda.  In my study of how young people made sense of cloaked white supremacist sites, I found that most of the 15-19 year-olds I interviewed as they surfed the web could not easily tell they were white supremacist sites.  It seems very likely that most of those people who visited the cloaked sites that Berman created were fooled as well.

What difference does it make?    Well, it makes a difference in a lot of ways.  If you’re someone like me who is in the classroom, then you’re going to have to deal with students bringing arguments found on cloaked websites into the classroom.   This happens to me frequently and just happened to a friend and colleague of mine the other day.  In a discussion on “racial profiling,” a student in my colleague’s class brought up a report called “The Color of Crime,” which concludes that black people are inherently more dangerous than white people, published by Jared Taylor of the New Century Foundation, a white supremacist organization.   In a recent class of mine, a student did a presentation on “post-abortion syndrome,” not a medically recognized condition – as the student believed – but a rhetorical strategy of the pro-life movement.  She had found information about this supposed “syndrome” on a cloaked pro-life site called “TeenBreaks.com.”

Cloaked sites, websites that look legitimate yet disguise a political agenda, are like the Trojan Horses of the digital era.   These sorts of sites make it possible to smuggle in ideas into current debate that have been discredited, and allow right-wing political operatives to undermine organizations, like ACORN, which are doing hard work on behalf of impoverished people of color.    Fighting back takes much more sophisticated critical thinking about the information we find online and good, investigative reporting, like Rachel Maddow’s on this topic.

Here’s the clip from the show in case you missed it:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Of Race, Racism and “Flattering” Whites

In order to move forward in the push for national health care reform, what we need is less pointing out racism and more flattering whites.  At least, that’s what some are arguing.

The racial politics around President Obama and the health care debate continue to rage on without an end in sight.  Political conservatives remain stalwart in their assertion that the vitriol directed at President Obama would be hurled at any president who advocated such reform, regardless of race; while many liberals continue to assert that the sharp rise (400% by at least one report) in death threats against President Obama have less to do with health care reform and much more to do with the color of his skin.    There does seem to be a growing consensus – or perhaps, weary defeat –  among white liberals that efforts to call out the racism among health-care-reform-naysayers is futile.

Here are a couple of examples of what I’m talking about.   Lincoln Mitchell, writing at the Huffington Post, calls the whole thing “pointless” :

My point here is not that the attacks on Obama are not racist; it is pretty clear that some are racist. However, it is far less clear what supporters of the president gain from making this argument. It is extremely difficult to convince somebody that racism exists when they don’t want to see it. Moreover, nothing would change if this effort were successful. The right wing and much of the Republican Party have made it clear these last few months that they will stop at almost nothing to cripple the Obama presidency, which indicates that even if they were persuaded that they were racist, they probably wouldn’t stop.

In another instance, Hastings Wyman, in a piece at the Southern Political Report (via @BlackInformant), writes that President Obama declines to point out racism because he is politically savvy enough to know that “white voters like to be flattered, not accused.” Wyman goes on to say:

Whether it’s making a heart-felt address to the nation on race as he distanced himself from his long-time preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or backtracking on black Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gate’s dispute with a white Cambridge police officer, Obama has consistently taken the high road where charges of white racism are involved. Who knows what his opinion is about such issues in the deepest recesses of his soul, but his political skills are very much in tact. He knows that getting the left — including African-Americans — highly and publicly incensed about white racism is a losing strategy, at least in terms of current political battles.

What both Mitchell and Wyman seem to be saying here is that whites – who obviously hold the power in this society – are put off by being called out on their racism, so better not do that if you want to win their votes or persuade them to support health care reform.  A better strategy is to soft-pedal the mention of racism, even flatter whites for their magnanimous support of an African-American president, and then we can get on with other business.

It’s important to point out that this sort of strategy from Mitchell and Wyman (and others) is rooted in the white racial frame that Joe has detailed in his recent book, and that Joe and Adia discuss in their new book, “Yes We Can? White Racial Framing and the 2008 Presidential Campaign.” When Mitchell talks about “Americans” he’s referring to “white Americans.”   When Wyman refers to Obama has having “taken the high road where charges of white racism are involved,” he is subscribing to a white point-of-view.  The high road, within this frame, means not calling out white racism when it exists, but instead deflecting, ignoring, minimizing.  The key to all this is, as Wyman notes earlier in this piece, flattering whites.  That need for flattery, that desire to always be right when it comes to matters of race and never be responsible for wrong-doing, that too is a kind of white racism – classic white liberal racism.

Jeremy Levine, writing at Social Science Lite, makes the sociological point that:

To discuss and analyze race is not to revert to an either/or, racist/not racist false dichotomy. Race matters as an everyday reality of inequality, yes, but it’s not as simple as the White Racist Meme suggests. Race matters because it’s always mattered. But racism matters in increasingly complex ways.

Indeed, racism matters in increasingly complex ways in the current era.  But, I would argue, that it does not make whites any less culpable for perpetuating – and benefitting from – systems of racial inequality.  And, if that makes some whites uncomfortable, well so be it.

Critics like Mitchell and Wyman seem to be making an old point:  “sure, there’s racism, but what can you do about it?” As if racism were like gravity – a law of physics that cannot be altered by human behavior.

This is simply false.

Racism was created by human beings (relatively recently in human history), and it can be dismantled, done away with, abolished.   But not if we keep ignoring it and flattering those who perpetuate it.

Limbaugh’s Call for Bus Segregation: Post-Post-Racial America?

One major source of the escalation of overt public racism over the last year lies in far-right talk show hosts. like Rush Limbaugh. Even he went beyond his usual reactionary commentary recently in comments about a local incident in which a white student was beaten by black students on a school bus.
Creative Commons License photo credit: carlosgomez
He called for racially segregated buses as the solution:

I mean, that’s the lesson we’re being taught here today. Kid shouldn’t have been on the bus anyway. We need segregated buses — it was invading space and stuff. This is Obama’s America.

Limbaugh seemed intent on making it a racial incident even though the local police backed away from their earlier report that it was racially motivated. According to AlterNet, other conservative bastions like the Drudge Report also played up what was a relatively minor local incident. Limbaugh also noted that

It’s Obama’s America, is it not? Obama’s America — white kids getting beat up on school buses now. I mean, you put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety, but in Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, ‘Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on. I wonder if Obama’s going to come to come to the defense of the assailants the way he did his friend Skip Gates up there at Harvard.

He is intent on linking our first black president to local incidents on a school bus, with racial issues in mind. Did prominent commentators do that so easily with George W. Bush? Then Limbaugh continued with his confusing alternation between mocking and seriousness, much of it out of his own version of conventional white racial framing of society:

White Americans are racists who have created what they call free markets that really just enslave the rest of America and her trading partners. . . . No, look, let’s just follow Eric Holder’s advice and not be cowards about all this. Let’s have an open conversation, an honest conversation about all of our typical white grandmothers. You had one, I had one. Obama had one. . . . If homosexuality being inborn is what makes it acceptable, why does racism being inborn not make racism acceptable? . . . But apparently now we don’t choose racism, we just are racists. We are born that way. We don’t choose it. So shouldn’t it be acceptable excuse — this is according to the way the left thinks about things.

A bit confusing and confused, but he seems to be excusing racism in this odd way. Media Matters made these suggestions about Limbaugh’s racially framed commentaries:

Regardless of what he says he was trying to do, what he succeeded in doing was exaggerating the racial element of the story and linking purportedly race-based violence to the first African-American president. . . . And whatever point Limbaugh says he was trying to get across, all he ended up doing was using the sensitive subject of race as a political weapon. . . . This, of course, fits neatly into the dangerous, radical right-wing effort to demonize Barack Obama, which Limbaugh has been spearheading for months. A few weeks ago, he was smearing the president as a Nazi . . . and by Thursday’s show, he was proclaiming that Obama “is racism.” The following day on his show, Rush continued to rant about the media’s tendency to talk about whether criticism of Obama was racist, which led Rush to ask his audience this “legitimate” question: “[C]an this nation really have an African-American president?”

If Limbaugh is the most influential commentator on talk radio, as is often claimed, this type of racist discourse and commentary is surely having a very negative important on the thinking of ordinary (especially white) Americans, many of whom do not know U.S. history on racial matters such as Jim Crow segregation and contemporary patterns of widespread racial discrimination, much less the history of European Nazism. It is also strking how quickly we have gotten to a post-post-racial America. Post-raciality did not last long.

Mass Deportation of People of Color from the U.S.

Each day, about 1,000 people are deported from the US. Nearly all are people of color. This means that the devastating effects of deportations are felt more strongly in communities where people of color predominate. Many people who are deported have committed fairly minor crimes, and the punishment of permanent separation from their loved ones is overly severe.

Deportation is not considered punishment in US law, yet it often amounts to banishment from the only country people have known, for relatively minor legal infractions. Xuan Wilson, for example, came to the US when she was four years old. In 1989, she was convicted of writing a forged check for $19.83. Since this minor offense was considered a crime of moral turpitude, she was ordered deported in 2003. Mary Anne Gehris came to the US from Germany as an infant. In 1988, she was involved in an altercation in which she pulled the hair of another woman. She was charged and convicted of battery and received a one-year suspended sentence–she did not have to serve any time. However, since she is a non-citizen, she faced mandatory deportation, without any judicial review. Mary Anne Gehris was fortunate to have found advocates for her cause. She was granted a pardon from the governor of Georgia, which meant that she was not deported to a country she barely knew for a relatively minor offense.

Not only are deportees affected by their exclusion; their families suffer greatly as well. In 1997, Jesus Collado, a 43-year old restaurant manager and legal resident of the US went to the Dominican Republic for a two week vacation with his wife and children. When he returned, the inspector checked the INS records and found that Collado had been convicted of a criminal offense in 1974. Collado had been convicted of statutory rape for having consensual sex with his 15-year old girlfriend when he was nineteen. Because of the retroactive nature of the 1996 laws, Collado faced mandatory detention and deportation without judicial review. His family faced losing their father, husband, and provider.

Sometimes, the consequences for family members left behind can be devastating. Gerardo Mosquera, a native of Colombia, was deported for a $10 marijuana sale in 1989, although he had been a legal resident for 29 years. He left behind his US citizen wife and children. His 17-year old son committed suicide after his father left, in part because of his depression over losing his father. In Jamaica, I met a man, Elias, who left twelve children in the US when he was deported. Elias was walking past a barber shop in Brooklyn when a friend asked him to take a bag of baby wipes and diapers to his baby’s mother across town. Elias agreed to do it and hopped into a cab. Shortly thereafter, a police car turned on its siren and pulled the cab over. Elias looked into the bag and saw that the bag didn’t have baby wipes in it – it had fourteen rocks of crack cocaine. Elias was arrested and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Once released, he was ordered deported. Elias spent eleven months in detention trying to get his charge overturned, until he finally gave up while the appeal was still underway. He had been in the US since he was six years old, and had no ties to Jamaica. He didn’t want his twelve children to grow up without a father present. But, he was tired of being locked up and agreed to be deported.

In many cases, “criminal aliens” have no idea that they have committed crimes that render them deportable. Emma Mendez de Hays faced deportation for translating a conversation for her Spanish-speaking cousin in 1990. Mendez de Hays answered the phone in her home, and the caller asked for her cousin. Her cousin, who did not speak English well, told her to tell him she would help him the next day. Mendez de Hays relayed the message and hung up. It turned out the caller was an undercover narcotics officer, and Mendez de Hays was found guilty of using a communication device to facilitate the distribution of cocaine. She did not serve any time for this “offense” and thought the whole incident was behind her when, in 1996, she returned from a visit to Italy with her fiancé. INS officials immediately detained her and placed her in deportation proceedings for her 1990 guilty plea. She spent two years in INS detention while she fought her case. She finally won when a US Supreme Court decision invalidated some retroactive deportation orders.

Catherine Caza came to the US when she was three years old. She was ordered deported at the age of 40 in 1997, for a crime she had committed seventeen years prior. In 1980, Caza was taking amphetamine pills prescribed by her doctor. Her boyfriend convinced her to sell him 21 of them. He turned out to be an undercover police officer. In court, she pled guilty, and was placed on probation for five years. The 1996 laws rendered her ineligible for a waiver for deportation, and, despite the nature of her offense, the 37 years she had spent in the US, and her seven-year-old US citizen daughter, the judge had no choice but to order her to be deported.

The deportation of people for relatively minor crimes – shoplifting, small drug sales, and forged checks – is appalling. The disproportionate severity of the consequence of deportation is exacerbated by the fact that many of these people have spent nearly all of their lives here. Many learned to shoplift or resorted to selling drugs because of their environment in the US. When a child born in Thailand and adopted by US parents is convicted of forging checks and stealing a car, we cannot blame his country of origin for his criminal activity. John Gaul, the adopted child of US citizen parents was deported to Thailand at age 19, after having served time for these felonies. What is the logic behind this exile? As the 1953 Presidential Commission charged with reviewing deportation orders pointed out, “Each of the aliens is a product of our society. Their formative years were spent in the United States, which is the only home they have ever known. The countries of origin which they left … certainly are not responsible for their criminal ways.”

~ Tanya Golash-Boza is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas and blogs at http://tanyagolashboza.blogspot.com.

Time to say “Basta” to CNN’s Lou Dobbs

September 15 – October 15 marks “Hispanic Heritage Month” here in the U.S.  According to the U.S. Census, there were 46.9 million people estimated Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2008, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or race minority. Hispanics constituted 15 percent of the nation’s total population. In addition, there are approximately 4 million residents of Puerto Rico.  (More population facts here.)

Given the large and growing population of Hispanic people in the U.S., there is also a growing awareness of anti-Latino racism.   One very prominent and especially vitriolic source of anti-Latino sentiment is Lou Dobbs, an anchor and talking-head on CNN.    Writing at Alternet, Robert Novato (founding member of Presente.org), says this:

Dobbs’ extremism can be seen and heard on most week nights and consists of three pillars: obsession with immigrants and Latinos; promotion of systematic myths about immigrants and Latinos; and, most dangerously, providing a platform for leaders of some of the most radical and violent anti-Latino groups in the United States.

More than anyone in national network news, Dobbs has declared war against those he calls “invaders” and “aliens.” According to the media watchdog group Media Matters, for example, from January 1 through July 23 of this year, Dobbs included segments on immigration in 77 out of 140 broadcast hours. With so much airtime dedicated to slandering Latinos, Dobbs has ample opportunity to spread misinformation. For example, he has blamed Latino immigrants for an alleged leprosy epidemic that was widely debunked, and has asserted Latinos’ criminality with the wild exaggeration that “illegal aliens” take up a third of the cells in our prisons and jails. Dobbs also has plenty of time to host extremist guests like FAIR, the Minutemen, and controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who he called “a model for the whole country.”

Dobbs’ incessant attacks on Latinos and immigrants have earned him a following among nativists and those who share his extreme views.

For the most part, Dobbs has skated by on the tacit approval of CNN which has banked on the fact that many of the Latinos who bear the brunt of his systematic media assaults–Spanish-speaking immigrants–were unaware of the bile that Dobbs regularly spews.   Interestingly, CNN does not translate Dobbs for broadcast on its CNN en Espanol network.

All of that has led Novato and his organization to with other Latino organizations throughout the United States demanding that CNN get rid of Dobbs.  In the coming weeks, CNN President Jon Klein will be inundated by a growing national chorus of calls from www.bastadobbs.com and others demanding his network to stop promoting Dobbs’ brand of “news.” It should be interesting to watch if and how CNN responds to this call to live up to their tagline of “the most trusted name in news.”  This movement to dump Dobbs marks a critical shift in the direction of Latino activism in the United States.