Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The global nature of racism - Part I: Healthcare

crossposted on the White Anti-Racist Parent blog.

As I do my daily dose of self-education about racism, I find so many similarities between institutional racism across the world. For example, just in the last two weeks, a number of news stories have come out about reports on inequities in health care for various groups of color in several countries.

For example, the Colorlines Magazine article I mentioned in an earlier post, discusses racial disparities in healthcare and the conscequences of "colorblind" policies on the health of people of color. The article includes such alarming statistics as:

- Blacks are dying at a 40 percent higher rate than whites &

- The infant mortality gap between Blacks and whites doubled between 1950 and 2002.

Though heavily edited by the Bush administration, the National Healthcare Disparities Report, cited in the Colorlines article, and released in 2002, reveals that "racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities are national problems that affect health care at all points in the process, at all sites of care, and for all medical conditions—in fact, disparities are pervasive in our health care system."

This according to Kai Wright, writing for Colorlines:

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report "rocked the healthcare world. Conventional wisdom had thus far been that racial health disparities were primarily due to access to care, that people of color got sick and died more often because they were more likely to be uninsured or underinsured.

But the IOM study asserted that much more was at play. It declared that even given the same insurance, the same income and the same type of treatment facility, people of color were less likely to receive quality care. The disturbing gap existed across a wide range of treatments-breast cancer screenings, angioplasties, hip fracture repairs, and on and on. Whites were even more likely to get an eye exam than nonwhites.

The IOM cited a host of complex and dynamic causes for this inequality. There were structural factors, such as financial incentives to limit services given to poor patients; communication factors like missing translators or English-only signage and literature; even factors driven by the patients themselves, whose own beliefs and preferences led them to refuse certain types of care or fail to follow doctors' instructions. But what grabbed everyone's attention was the IOM's charge that at least part of the disparity results from care providers making racist and stereotyped decisions about when and what treatment to offer." (emphasis mine)

Now compare this to a study that was just released last week, on May 8th in Australia, which found that "Aboriginal health in Australia was 100 years behind the rest of the population in quality."

"Leprosy, rheumatic heart disease and tuberculosis haven't been experienced in white populations for decades, but they are still problems for some indigenous communities," WHO researcher Lisa Jackson Pulver, quoted in a Reuters article, said.

(If you read the article, notice the unethical insertion of the journalist's/editor's bigoted opinion in the sentence describing the issue of governmental budget allocations needed to: "drag Aborigines off welfare.")

The Australian study found that "Australia's Aborigines live 17 years less on average than other Australians."

The article continutes:

"Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up two percent of the 20 million population. They have consistently been the nation's most disadvantaged group, with far higher rates of unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.

The report said Australia ranked last among first world countries New Zealand, Canada and the United States for life expectancy among indigenous people.

While Australia's Aborigines died nearly 20 years younger than other citizens, in other countries the figure was seven years. For infants, the mortality figure was three times the rate of non-indigenous Australians."

And, finally, compare this to yet another study, released last month regarding the access to health care for the Eastern and Southern European Roma ("Gypsy") population. The study states:

"For the millions of Roma living in Central and Eastern Europe and South Eastern Europe, persistent discrimination and marginalization are a daily reality that results in poorer health for individuals and communities. Roma make up the largest ethnic minority in these countries with an overall population estimated at 5 to 6 million people. Available data consistently shows higher rates of illness and mortality among Roma than in majority populations."

These are some of the findings:

- Life expectancy for Roma populations in Eastern Europe is about 10 years less than the overall population.

- Infant mortality rates are twice as high among the Roma than the non-Roma in the Czech Republic (my country of birth!!!), Slovakia, and Hungary.

- It is widely agreed that TB, HIV/AIDS, and viral hepatitis disproportionately affect minority populations in Eastern and Central Europe. In a Serbian Roma community, the TB prevalence rate was found to be more than 2.5 times the national average.

And here is the pinnacle, for me, of the last study:

The disparities in healthcare are due to "direct discrimination by government policies" and health care providers. Sound familiar? The study states that "an overwhelming majority (95 percent) of the Roma women who had experienced gender discrimination also believed that health care professionals discriminate against Roma."

I have shared here the results of three different studies from three different continents. The U.S. study incorporated the health care disparities for a number of minority groups, though my quotes illustrated the impact of the disparities on African Americans. The other studies each focused on a single group - the Aborigines, or Native people of Australia, and the Roma, the largest ethnic minority in Europe, perceived as a "race" and racially discriminated against by many white Europeans.

What all these studies bring home is that institutional racism is real worldwide and that what ties these discriminatory practices together is institutionalized White Supremacy. That so much suffering happens worldwide at the hand of White Supremacy, is all ll the more reason to work on dismantling it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

these, too, are my people

This is cross-posted on the White Anti-Racist Parent blog.

When I think about who "my people" are, you know, the communities I identify with, the first group I'll usually list is Czechs. I am a Czech by birth and nationality. (My son is also Czech; he actually has dual citizenship.) I lived in the Czech Republic until I was fourteen. I still have close family and friends there, I'm fluent in the language, and go back frequently. So I feel close affinity with Czech people. But it troubles me deeply to know how racist my people are.

In March of this year in Geneva, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) reviewed the Czech Republic's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The findings are devastating, yet no surprise to those of us who've been following the developments in the country's minority/majority race relations.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, in the Czech Republic, whites make up about 97% of the population. The Roma (also known by the derogatory term Gypsies) are the largest group of color, who make up somewhere between 1 and 2% of the total population. The Roma people have suffered persecution for centuries. During World War II, more than 90% of Czech Roma died in Nazi concentration camps.

Today the discrimination continues. According to CERD, these are the manifestations of (institutionalized) racism against the Roma in the Czech Republic today:

- Racial segregation in education. Approximately 70% of Roma children are being categorized as mentally handicapped, and therefore receiving a substandard level of education.

- Vulnerability to evictions and segregation in housing.

- Coercive sterilizations of Romani women. Under communism, the Czech Government sterilised Romani women programmatically, as part of policies aimed at reducing the "high, unhealthy" birth rate of Romani women. These practices are still being perpetrated today.

- Racial prejudice against the Roma people. According to a recent opinion poll, 76% of the white Czech population describe persons of Romani origin as "very unlikable."

- Police brutality. Roma are common targets of violence by the police.

These are findings reported in 2007! The report inevitably concludes that "the measures taken on behalf of the Czech Government to combat racial prejudices and discrimination against Roma people currently remain insufficient."

Based on the above findings, Prague Daily Monitor reports, CERD made the demand that:

The government [must] report back to the Committee within one year – instead of the usual five - on four key areas: adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Act, reparations to victims of coercive sterilization, ending segregated education, and establishing an “institution…to receive complaints of racial discrimination.”

The full text of CERD's recommendations can be viewed here

When I think about all this discrimination taking place in my country of birth, I feel sad, angry, sick to my stomach, and sometimes very alone. Racism is so ingrained in most white Czechs that embedding in their consciousness even the idea that the Roma are people too seems farfetched.

I remember an incident that shook me to the core once. I was back in the Czech Rebublic during one summer while in college. A university professor that I had assumed was quite progressive and open-minded, told a racist joke in a group of white Czechs and my American boyfriend. I challenged the professor. He looked me square in the eyes, and in everyone's presence proclaimed: "Yeah, I am a racist. So what?"

All I could do was stare at him wide-eyed with nothing left to say for a moment. I walked away and cried, realizing people like him, too, are my people. Aware of their own racism, but indifferent to it and to the people their attitudes hurt.

What heartens me is the work of young Roma journalists and activists who are fighting to educate, organize, and reverse the discriminatory history of the country. I have met a couple of them. Jarmila Balážová, for example. You can read her bio as well as an interview about her perception of the relationship between the whites and the Roma here.

Unfortunately, I don't know many whites fighting the fight. They are out there, but I haven't met them yet. I only know of one white Czech woman, Milena Hübschmannová, who fought for and with the Roma. According to The Guardian, "She was a professor of Romany studies at Prague's Charles University, and one of the leading experts of her generation, if not of all time, on Roma culture and language." Dzeno Association, an organization serving to promote Roma human rights and an end to discrimination and racism, said of Hübschmannová: "She was well loved for her modesty and her willingness to help among Roma both in the Czech Republic and abroad. We knew her as a loving, good-hearted woman and we will remember her as such." She is one of my heroes. She died in 2005.

If I ever move back, which my family may very likely do for some time, I want to work alongside the Roma activists as a white ally. I hope I am not one of these "pseudo-humaniarian people" that Jarmila in her interview says "feel something for the Roma - even if it's compassion, admiration, or even love - as if a single mass." She says these people "love the Roma, just as foolishly as [those who] hate them." I constantly question my motives with all this anti-racist work that I want to do. I don't want to do it for the wrong reasons. But this wasn't supposed to be about me. Back to Jarmila, whom I admire because though she sometimes feels that "certain powerlessness, when you can't budge that boulder that slightest bit you'd like to," she keeps on plugging away. Bold and unstoppable, against the current of hatred spouted by people who are white and Czech like me.