Healthcare reform isn’t ‘reparations’

by Sonny Bunch on June 21, 2012

But there’s certainly a subset of racial theorists who think that it is.

Background: On Twitter, that font of reasonable discourse, Ta-Nehisi Coates got into it with Joshua Treviño over whether or not white people oppose healthcare reform because they are racist and think that it constitutes “reparations.” You can see the whole back and forth here. TNC linked to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh saying that healthcare reform is a form of reparations; Treviño argued that there is no statistical data showing that white people actually oppose health care reform because they consider it to be reparations.

So let’s just say that they’re both right: Beck and Limbaugh have levied that silly argument and there’s no statistical evidence showing that white people oppose health care reform because they see it as “reparations.”

But let’s ask why Beck and Limbaugh might have thought it reasonable to offer this argument. I mean, they’re just crazy racists pulling nonsense out of the air, right? No person with a position of authority would describe health care reform as reparations, right?

The current health disparities is directly traceable to slavery is a fact that is not well understood. African American still suffer from the generational effect of a slave health deficit and reparations could repair that deficit. … Reparations should be viewed as an obligation to make the repairs necessary to correct current harms done by past wrongs. This is a much more expansive view than merely calculating the economic harm and writing a check. Under this view, reparations becomes a process that restores hope and dignity and rebuilds the community. … Thus, when I speak about reparations, I am talking about taking up the burden to repair the harm, that is, to eliminate the “Black health deficit”.

That’s Vernellia R. Randall, professor of law at the University of Dayton, whose focus is Health Care, Gender, Race and Racism, and Academic Support. I bet if someone combed through academic journals they could find many, many similar articles. I have neither the time nor the patience for such an endeavor. Anyway, this isn’t an argument that existed solely in the margins of academia; the San Jose Mercury News, one of the nation’s largest newspapers, published an op-ed* in 2009 headlined “Real reparations for African-Americans: health care reform,” arguing that

From the cradle to the grave, African-Americans have poorer health outcomes: African-American infant mortality is more than double that of whites; African-American women make up 70 percent of new HIV/AIDS infections; three times as many black Americans die from diabetes as white Americans; and the life expectancy for whites is 78 years, compared with 73 years for all African-Americans and less than 70 years for African-American males. …

Given the climate for health care reform, it’s time for the African-American community to cash the check promised to us.

Shortly after the end of the Civil War on Jan. 16, 1865, Union Gen. William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order 15, which promised “forty acres and a mule” to freed slaves. …

Aside from land, health care is the commodity that African-Americans need to gain equal footing in the United States. President Obama said “close to 50 percent of all bankruptcies are caused because of a health care crisis.” And the African-American community is in crisis.

Now, again, I don’t think that healthcare reform is a form of reparations. I think this is a silly view unsupported by the facts. But I do think that there are fringe elements** on the right and on the left, in both the black and the white communities that think it is. If Coates or anyone else wants to show me some polling that proves a significant portion of white people are opposed to health care reform because it is a form of reparations for slavery, I’d be happy to consider it. But I imagine that it’s way, way, way down on the list of priorities for most opponents.

*Interestingly, I can’t find the op-ed on the Mercury News‘s website any longer.

**”Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck aren’t fringe elements!!!!” I hear someone sputtering. True, but I seriously doubt they would’ve even raised these arguments if it wasn’t for the fact that left wing activists were already promulgating the idea that healthcare reform is a form of reparations. Unfortunately we’ll never know, since Randall’s writing came in 2002, long before Limbaugh or Beck raised the issue.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

r June 21, 2012 at 10:47 am

Let me help you out chief, what you and Trevnio seem to fail (or willfully refuse) to grasp is that Coates was NOT saying that people opposed Health Care Reform because it’s a form of reparations, he was criticizing that the right framed it that way. AND YOU ADMIT AS SUCH.

When the two biggest voices in American Conservatism (think about that shit and weep) frame the debate that way, it’s quite simple to state that racism pulls on every element of Obama’s presidency.


Sid June 21, 2012 at 11:31 am

R is right — this is deeply unpersuasive as a form of rebuttal. When you use phrases like “I seriously doubt they would’ve even raised these arguments if it wasn’t for the fact that left wing activists were already promulgating the idea ” but provide no evidence of that recently occurring, and say things like “Unfortunately we’ll never know”, it becomes obvious you’re just a partisan hack.


Sonny Bunch June 21, 2012 at 11:33 am

Having failed to persuade “r” and “Sid” of anything, I guess I’ll just have to pack it in. To the rest of my readers, I just want to say thanks. It was a fun ride, no?


Quincy June 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm

If healthcare reform is a form of reparations, then the group getting the reparations will need more reparations. This notion is one of the silliest things I have ever read.


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