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Racism 101: poverty, race, and health threats

December 2, 2009

One thing I did not explicitly mention in my last post was my frustration over the connection between poverty, minority racial/ethnic and immigrant status, and living in an unhealthy environment being treated as a new idea.

Again, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, I thought this has been covered during the ’70s, particularly with the lead paint and neurological damage connection. If your (minority/immigrant) kids are eating paint chips in an inner city tenement, that’s horrible, but also a symptom of a much larger problem.

It doesn’t matter if the area is rural or urban; there are just more people to get hurt in a dangerous urban environment. Poor people are more likely to have toxins from mining, refineries, chemical plants, poorly maintained old building materials, toxic waste dumping, violence rooted in desperation and helplessness, etc. where they live. Poor people are more likely to live in crowded conditions which encourage all kinds of illnesses to spread, besides the same kinds of distress produced by overcrowded animal cages. And they’re disproportionately likely to be from non-White and/or immigrant backgrounds.

That’s even before we factor in all the stress from living in a bad environment, and from the way other people and institutions treat you, as a serious health risk.

That’s not news; it’s straight out of Racism 101. And somehow I doubt that this epidemiological approach will be used to work on the actual threats to people’s health, much less improve poor people’s living conditions. Especially given the current political climate, in which “one in four men (23 percent)” will openly admit they “do not think it is their responsibility to help the poor”, and “Only 13 percent of Americans…correctly credit the Bible as the source of Proverbs 31:8-9, the Contemporary English Version of which states: ‘You must defend those who are helpless and have no hope. Be fair and give justice to the poor and homeless.'”.

I might be less aggravated if I thought this research might help anyone in any way, ever. With all the false scarcity ethic going around, it’s more likely to divert further resources from actually doing things that help. It looks remarkably like a distraction tactic, which is too likely to make a lot of privileged people feel like something is Really Being Accomplished.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 21, 2013 10:16 pm

    Poor people in any setting (including rural, not only urban environments) tend to be at higher risks of all sorts of health related things. For instance, if you’re a poor person in a rural area somewhere in Africa or Asia then you’re more likely to be forced to drink water that isn’t completely healthy because it’s the only drinking water available to you. This can happen in urban areas also, but is statistically more likely in rural areas. They also may have similar problems to urban poor people in affording to purchase medical care when needed, but compounded by the fact that the nearest clinic may be hours or even days away instead of minutes.

    Which is not to dismiss the difficulties unique to urban environments such as overcrowding, but an attempt to point out that poor people have it tough all over. But many of the services meant to combat poverty and the conditions of poverty tend to be concentrated in urban areas simply because it’s easier to reach large number of people in a small space when you do that. Thus services that could make a difference tend to be more sparse in rural areas.

    I recognize that race (and gender and disability) are all important intersecting axes here, but I think class is also an important factor that at least in the US people tend to resist talking about.

    Sorry to blather on at an old post, but was slowly catching up with your archives (which I tend to do when discovering a blog I like) and sometimes find it hard to not have something to say even if no one other than the blog author will see it 🙂

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