Black-and-White Health Care Disparities

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Commentator John McCann weighs in on the NAACP's initiative to address health disparities between blacks and other Americans. McCann is a columnist for the Herald-Sun newspaper in Durham, North Carolina.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Members of the NAACP are returning home from this week's annual convention where they talked about many issues including health disparities between blacks and other Americans. Commentator John McCann believes there's been enough talk. It's time to get physical.


Man, it's hard being black. Just read the headlines. When the story has to do with students failing in school, it's talking about black people. When the subject is unemployment, get ready to read about black people without jobs. Then there's health care. White folks have it; black folks don't. There's no 10 or $20 co-payment at the doctor's office when you don't even have a job, let alone benefits. Depending on who you talk to, it's a conspiracy, my brother. White man trying to keep us down, six feet down in the grave, you dig?

But with apologies to commentator Paul Harvey, let's deal with the rest of the story. Truth is this country's home to a bunch of big fat black people. There, I said it. Arms so big they look linebackers, and that's just the women. These are people, mind you, with good jobs, with health insurance, without self-discipline.

The nation's oldest civil rights organization is absolutely right to talk about health disparities between blacks and whites at its 96th annual convention this week. The NAACP has entered a three-year, million-dollar partnership with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. In a letter to association members, one of the Pfizer big shots lamented that many of us in the black community don't get the kind of health care we deserve, calling it a, quote, "silent crisis." But if NAACP President Bruce Gordon and the other higher-ups are really concerned about us, they'll tell it like it is, give it to us straight, say, `Black people, stop blaming the white man for your high blood pressure when you choose to cook the collards in ham hocks instead of olive oil. If you can't afford olive oil, get some Wesson, get something, just don't use the lard.'

I like to think that we moved beyond black people refusing to see doctors because they're still leery of the infamous Tuskegee experiment that used black men as guinea pigs so scientists could learn about syphilis. The NAACP came to the rescue in that case. They filed a class-action lawsuit resulting in a $9 million settlement for surviving victims. Now the NAACP has another opportunity to be a health-care hero. We don't have time to wait for the economy to turn around, don't have time for those part-time gigs to turn into full-time deals with benefits, no time to wait and get our bodies in shape. An NAACP that loves black people will tell us to let it fight the Bush administration, let it deal with the job market and encourage us to make the right choices at the meat market--lean cuts without all the tasty but unhealthy fat--tell us to take it easy at the family reunion picnic table this year, to stop putting salt on everything and to stop watching them Tae-Bo tapes like you're at the multiplex. For a healthy heart, you've got to actually star in your own motion picture.

GORDON: John McCann is a columnist for the Herald Sun newspaper in Durham, North Carolina.

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