Thursday, October 29, 2009

Eighteenth-Century Racism in Twenty-First Century America (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi

It doesn’t take much thought to realize that Keith Bardwell’s animus against black and white couples is merely symbolic of a recrudescence of eighteenth-century racism in twenty-first century forms. In the eighteenth century, German physician and anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, on the basis of his analysis of human skulls, taxonomized the human family into five races: Caucasian or white race, Mongolian or yellow race, Malayan or brown race, Negroid or black race, and American or red race.

This arbitrary division of the human family is often fingered as the foundation for scientific racism and would be used by eighteenth-century American judges as the intellectual and moral basis for the promulgation of so-called anti-miscegenation laws (laws that forbade interracial marriage or interracial sex) in a misguided bid to police racial boundaries.

Of course, one of the reasons interracial marriage was frowned upon by advocates of racial purism was because its products disrupt the easy certainties of Blumenbach’s racial taxonomies. As Yale University professor of history Glenda Gilmore noted, interracial liaisons “resulted in mixed race progeny who slipped back and forth across the color line and defied social control.”

But that’s not the only reason white supremacists frown at interracial marriage. Some of them believe that racial mixing only improves the intelligence of black people but leaves intact their so-called innate moral depravity. Thus, according to them, interracial marriage only produces intelligent criminals.

However, all race-based legal restraints on marriage in America were lifted in 1967. And this was, as is well known, the consequence of the famous legal battle against these discriminatory laws by a white and black couple known as Richard and Mildred Loving. They were natives of the southern state of Virginia.

Richard Loving, a white man, married Mildred, a black woman, in 1958 in Washington D.C., a contiguous territory where there were no laws against interracial marriage. (Washington D.C. and the state of Virginia are analogous, in more ways than one, to Abuja and Niger State in Nigeria). When the couple returned to their native Virginia, however, they were arrested while relaxing in their bedroom. They were later charged with and convicted of contravening Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, also called the Racial Integrity Act.

In 1963, the couple, who had escaped again to Washington DC, decided to appeal the judgment. But the trial court Judge Leon Bazile declined to review his decision. Instead, he argued passionately in favor of racial segregation, writing, in echoes of German physician Johann Blumenbach, that:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Frustrated, the Lovings appealed against the ruling to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which predictably endorsed the legality of the state's Racial Integrity Act. With the help of several liberal groups, the Lovings turned to the all-white U.S Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional and "designed to maintain White supremacy.” In a landmark ruling, it said:

"Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

The first southern state to repeal its anti-miscegenation law even before the U.S. Supreme Court gave its ruling was Maryland (another state that is as close to Washington D.C. as Nassarawa State is to Abuja in Nigeria). Immediately after the Supreme Court ruling, 17 Southern states, with the exception of South Carolina and Alabama, formally expunged the anti-miscegenation laws from their state constitutions.

South Carolina and Alabama repealed theirs only in 1998 and 2000 respectively, although the laws had been virtually ineffective. In the respective referendums that preceded the repeal of the laws, 62 percent of voters in South Carolina and 59 percent of voters in Alabama voted in favor of interracial marriage.

Gallup surveys indicate that only 48 percent of Americans approved of marriage between blacks and whites as recently as 1994. In 2007 it rose to 77 percent.

Keith Bardwell is obviously among the 23 percent of Americans who still oppose marriage between black and white people. And, apparently, he has many fans in the Republican Party. According to Newsweek, only recently, on the Republican Party’s Facebook page, a conservative fan uploaded a racially incendiary image of Obama eating chicken (a popular unflattering stereotype of black people here) with the following caption: “Miscegenation is a CRIME against American values. Repeal Loving v. Virginia.”

So, you see, in refusing to officiate the wedding of a black and white couple, Keith Bardwell has only provided an outlet for the ventilation of pent-up, eighteenth-century-type racial segregationist sentiments by people who are still helplessly held prisoner in a time warp. But with about 8 and a half million interracial marriages in America and counting, Bardwell and people who think like him are fighting a lost battle.

Related Article: 
Eighteenth-Century Racism in Twenty-First Century America (I)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Eighteenth-Century Racism in Twenty-First Century America (I)

By Farooq A. Kperogi

On the very day that President Barack Obama visited New Orleans (Louisiana’s biggest and most historic city), an elected (conservative Republican) Louisiana judge by the name of Keith Bardwell made headlines for refusing to give judicial imprimatur to the marriage of a black and white couple, the kind of marriage the produced Barack Obama. Cruelly ironic, isn’t it?

Now, why would a judge in twenty-first-century America refuse to officiate a civil wedding for a black and white couple? Well, the judge said the reason he has always recused himself from officiating weddings involving black and white couples in his 34-year judicial career is because he knows enough to know that bi-racial marriages are not often successful and that children of biracial unions are usually neither accepted by black families nor by white society.

Bardwell has forcefully protested his innocence against charges that he is a racist. He argued that the fact that he has "piles and piles of black friends” who use his “bathroom” should insulate him from charges of anti-black racism. Hmm. Interesting choice of words there: “piles and piles of black friends.” You would think this doddering doofus was talking about some inanimate objects and not fellow humans who just happen to have a different skin tone from him. Well, this is perhaps the involuntary linguistic manifestation of the man’s deep-seated, subconscious bigotry.

But let’s for now leave his subconscious motives and deal with the voluntary, outward manifestation of his intolerance and prejudice. First, while it is true that inter-racial marriages do have challenges (which marriage doesn’t, by the way?) it is untrue that mixed-race marriages don’t endure. But even if it were true that they don’t, would this same concern affect the judge’s decision to officiate single-race marriages? After all, according to recent data, nearly 50 percent of marriages in America end up in divorce. By Bardwellian logic, the institution of marriage should cease to exist because of this fact.

The man is historically inaccurate, too, when he claimed that children of black and white couples are often rejected by both white and black families. All the notable black American cultural, political and intellectual icons, with the exception of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., have been unquestionably mixed-race—Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. Dubois, Malcolm X, prominent Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates (who likes to describe himself as “73 percent white”).

Black Americans not only tolerate mixed-race people; they, in fact, celebrate them, it would seem. It is white Americans, Bardwell’s people, who don’t have a long history of accepting mixed-race children. Of course, this is not necessarily because black Americans are more racially tolerant than white Americans; it’s because black Americans have, over the years, internalized the white power structure’s definition of blackness— as anybody with even the smallest possible drop of black blood.

That’s why the legendary three-time heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali whose great-grandfather was an Irishman is celebrated as a black American. That’s why former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is probably just about 15 percent black in his gene pool, is celebrated as a black American success story. That’s why Mariah Carey, who would be called “bature” or “oyinbo” in Nigeria, or “muzungu” in eastern Africa, is accepted by black America as a black woman. And that is why it is only in America that a white woman can have black children but a black woman cannot have white children.

But Obama is a living example of a mixed-race child who has found acceptance in both black and white communities. He was loved and well taken care of by his white grandparents and is unconditionally accepted in black America. That’s why Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice, quipped: “Perhaps [the Louisiana judge is] worried the kids will grow up and be president." Obama's deputy press secretary Bill Burton echoed those sentiments. "I've found that actually the children of biracial couples can do pretty good," he said.

These are not mere political statements. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Social Issues found that, contrary to Bardwell’s claims, mixed-raced children are often able to "place one foot in the majority and one in the minority group, and in this way might be buffered against the negative consequences of feeling tokenized." (There are currently 7 million mixed-race children in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau).

Well, I can forgive Bardwell if he is ignorant of these facts. But being from Louisiana, one of the most mixed-race states in the United States, perhaps in the world, his narrow-mindedness is inexcusable. Throughout the nearly two years I lived in Louisiana, I often had difficulty telling a white person from a black person. People I considered unambiguously white took offense when I identified them as white; they would tell me they were “black.” I later learned that they are more generally called “Creoles”—descendants of the racial alchemy between French, Spanish, and African ancestors who are nonetheless categorized as “black.”

On other occasions, however, people I thought would self-identify as “black” based on my previous encounters with seemingly white “Creoles” would take offense when I called them black. Before I left Louisiana, I stopped guessing or discussing people’s racial identity.

Yes, racial identification is that tenuous, that fluid, and that notoriously unstable in southwest Louisiana!

Related Article:
Eighteenth-Century Racism in Twenty-First Century America (II)

Friday, October 9, 2009

U.S. Healthcare: What If You’re a Tourist and Fall Ill?

By Farooq A. Kperogi

I thought I had written enough about American healthcare to bore my readers to death. I was wrong. Readers who have followed my previous articles on the topic have emailed me several questions which I feel compelled to respond to before I move to another issue. The questions can be reduced to two: One, what happens to temporary visitors to America who have the misfortune of falling sick during their visit? Two, why did I once describe the concept of health insurance, especially as it’s practiced in America, as one huge, elaborate fraud but now seem to be advocating it for the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans?

I will start with the first question. Tourists or other temporary visa holders who fall sick during their stay here have at least three options. The first is to get a visitor’s insurance before their visit. However, only visitors who will stay here from between 5 days and 12 months are eligible for a visitor’s insurance. Of course, as you would expect, a very good visitor’s health insurance that will be tenable in all U.S. hospitals is expensive. So this is only an option for people at the upper end of the social scale.

The second option is to go to what Americans call “mini-clinics.” Mini-clinics are small, bare-bone but nonetheless well-equipped health centers created to handle routine and minor ailments like the flu, fever, etc. They are usually found in such ubiquitous retail stores as CVS Pharmacy, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Target, Publix, etc. Unlike regular hospitals, no appointment is required to see a nurse practitioner or an on-call doctor, and people can be treated even if they don’t have health insurance. The clinics are also relatively inexpensive and typically charge less than $50 (about 7,400 naira) an office visit. Plus, they accept payment in cash, which is a good deal for visitors especially from cash-based economies like Nigeria.

However, mini-clinics cannot handle complicated medical emergencies. So what happens when a visitor has a medical emergency? Well, there is only one option: rush to the emergency room, which by current law can’t refuse to treat patients on account of inability to pay. In many such cases, my friends here tell me, American tax payers end up picking the bill since emergency room bills are often so atrociously extortionate that ordinary mortals can’t afford them. (By the way, after my insurance company paid 80 percent of the $4100 bill I received for a fever I was treated for at an emergency room, I paid $840, that is, about N125,000, from my pocket, which is still inordinately high-priced for the treatment of a mere fever).

And this brings me to the reason for my repulsion against the whole idea of profit-driven health insurance, especially as it is practiced in America. First off, the idea of paying upfront for a service you currently have no need for, and may never even have a need for, strikes me as singularly dishonest. I have been paying into a health insurance account for all the years I have been here and had never had a reason to visit a hospital until recently. Yet, I won’t be refunded the money I paid in the past for services I never used.

Perhaps, I find this practice anomalous and counter-intuitive, even fraudulent, because I come from a “pay-as-you-go” consumer culture. I probably would have opted out of having health insurance if I had an option. I have health insurance because it’s part of the terms of my employment. My employers, by the way, also pay a periodic premium on my behalf to the insurance company—in addition to what I pay from my pocket. That’s why insurance companies here are some of the top-grossing business concerns here.

My second problem with American health insurance flows from the first: the utter moral perversion in the idea of making conscienceless profit from people’s misery. Insurance companies here have a whole host of devious tactics that they deploy to refuse to honor their subscribers’ claims. The most common is what they call “pre-existing condition.” That means if you have an illness, say cancer or sickle cell, prior to signing up for a heath insurance, the insurance company would not pay for any complications arising from these conditions.

In theory, it will only pay for sicknesses you contract after you have signed an agreement with them. That is what killed Barack Obama’s mother in 1995, and that’s why he’s personally and emotionally invested in reforming the healthcare system. His mother’s insurance company said the cancer she was diagnosed with was a “preexisting condition” and refused to pay for it. So she died a slow, painful death because she didn’t have the money to pay for expensive cancer treatment, although she had paid thousands of dollars to her insurance company in the past. Thousands of other people have died and continue to die in similar circumstances.

But there is an even more insidious health insurance fraud called rescission, which is basically a big term for the arbitrary termination of people’s insurance policies midstream when they develop expensive conditions, such as getting cancer or AIDS after signing up for an insurance policy. A recent investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives, for instance, found that insurance companies make billions of dollars from this unconscionably depraved and ungodly policy. In fact, it was discovered that bonuses for health insurance company workers were, and still are, often dependent on how many people with expensive conditions they are able to successfully “rescind,” using such dubious industry legerdemain as the fraudulent re-interpretation of intentionally vague disclaimers in the fine prints of the agreements people sign with them.

Insurance companies can also refuse to honor a bill from a hospital because the hospital is not in their “healthcare network,” or because a hospital, though in their “healthcare network,” did not call them prior to admitting and treating a patient that has insurance with them. They also pick and choose what illnesses to cover in the insurance policies. My own policy, for instance, does not cover dental treatment, treatment provided in a government hospital, routine physical examination, etc.

If I have a need for these services, I have to either pay from my pocket or extend my coverage by paying an extra premium. Just three weeks ago, a friend of mine, who is a full-time professor, was diagnosed as having a predisposition to heart attack, so her doctor advised her to go for treatment. But her health insurance does not cover heart surgery and she does not have the kind of money needed to fund a heart surgery. So she is listlessly resigned to fate now.

Insurance companies also typically target young and healthy people (who often have no need to visit hospitals and therefore literally give them free money) and reject old, vulnerable, and illness-prone people who need the most medical help. They are able to make this shifty discrimination because before you sign up for a health insurance policy here, you have to disclose your medical history. They use this disclosure to determine whether or not you will be a future financial burden on them.

I just think that American health insurance companies are a bunch of criminal, rapacious, malevolent, blood-sucking enterprises that no nation should tolerate. They have ensured that although America has the world’s best healthcare facilities and personnel, it has the worst health record among the world’s 16 most industrialized countries, according to a recent survey. And this is so because healthcare has been colonized by these predatory, cold-blooded and crass private sector wolves to the complete exclusion of government.

The Obama administration wants to reverse that by changing the law so that government can also invest in health insurance and compete with the shameless private sectors vultures. Conservative Republicans in the US Congress (who are sponsored to their posts by insurance companies) have derided this as “socialized medicine.” And they have got poor, ignorant people to rise up in violent, vitriolic, race-tinged demonstrations against Obama for this.

However, according to opinion polls, most Americans now want government involvement in health insurance to keep costs down. This is called the “public option.” Insurance companies and their minions in the U.S. Congress are scared shitless at the prospect of this option. Government involvement in health insurance would mean the end of, or at least a substantial check on, insurance companies’ exploitation of people’s misery for profit.

Fox News anchor Shepard Smith captured it well in a recent face-off with Republican Senator John Barrasso when he said, among other things: “Over the last ten years health care costs in America have skyrocketed. Regular folks cannot afford it. So, they tax the system by not getting preventative medicine. They go to the emergency room in the last case and we all wind up paying for it. As the costs have gone up, the insurance industry's profits, on average, have gone up more than 350%. And it is the insurance companies which have paid, and who have contributed to Senators and Congressmen on both sides of the aisle to the point where now we cannot get what all concerned on Capitol Hill seem to believe and more than 60% of Americans say they would support, which is a public option.”

However, not having health insurance at all is a lot worse than having to contend with the current deformed and immoral system. Over 45,000 people die in America every year because they have no health insurance of any kind. And emergency room bills account for more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in this country. That’s why a Newsweek writer recently described America as “No Country for Sick Men.”

The good thing is that the Obama administration is working very hard to fix this embarrassing mess. So what I advocate for the millions of uninsured Americans is both access to health (which only the current malformed health insurance system can guarantee for now) and the opportunity to benefit from a reformed health insurance, which insurance companies have so far spent over $21 million to either derail, dilute or thwart. But it doesn’t seem like they will succeed this time.

Related Article:
Being Sick in America