Black Reparations Group Wants to Close 'Slave Health Deficit


Jun 10, 2002
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Black Reparations Group Wants to Close 'Slave Health Deficit'
By Christine Hall Staff Writer
July 12, 2002

( - Studies show that black Americans are more at-risk for certain diseases and ailments than whites, on average, prompting some black leaders to blame slavery's lingering effects and demand tax-funded reparations.

A recent study presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions, for example, found that despite recent declines in coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates, the disparity between African Americans and white Americans has increased.

CHD death rates declined by 33.3 percent in black men between 1979 and 1998, compared to 46.1 percent in white men. For women, death rates decreased by 26.6 percent in blacks versus 40.1 percent in whites.

The study concluded that the disparity is partly due to heredity and lifestyle habits and called for prevention programs to educate at-risk populations.

The American Heart Association is launching an education campaign in black churches. And Pennsylvania's secretary of health, along with members of a minority health task force, recently announced a grant program totaling $1.5 million for six community-health organizations to address minority health disparities.

But groups like the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N'COBRA) are not satisfied.

"Ultimately, you can say that an individual has a responsibility for themselves [but] if you understand what the historical roots of those things are, then you cannot expect a people who have lived a certain way" to be able to change unhealthy habits, like smoking or eating too much junk food, said Kibibi Tyehimba, co-chair of the Washington, D.C. chapter of (N'COBRA), which is hosting a pro-reparations march on Washington August 17.

Tyehimba and other reparations proponents, like Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran, believe that slavery, along with subsequent Jim Crow laws and other formerly legal forms of discrimination, have prevented black Americans from achieving economic and health parity with whites.

The NAACP's Hilary Shelton calls this the "residuals of slavery." The NAACP has not endorsed a particular reparations program or dollar-amount compensation package but has endorsed Conyers' bill for setting up a study commission on the subject. Conyers is the ranking Democrat on the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill.

"We still carry with us many of the thoughts, expectations and stereotypes" of the slavery and Jim Crow eras, said Shelton.

Existing welfare-type programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid, are insufficient, reparations proponents believe.

"Those are helpful programs as safety nets," said Shelton. "We want to make sure that no one gets left behind. But we certainly don't want people to be relegated to that. What we're looking for, in addition to having good, sound safety nets, is ... greater opportunity. We want to lift people out of poverty."

Tyehimba is more blunt. "No, [welfare programs] are not adequate," she said. "We have to go back to the original concern, and that is the injustice that African people experience coming from the 'Holocaust enslavement' and the fact that this country's wealth was built on African people's backs, and we have never been adequately compensated.

"All of these systems ... are not there specifically for African Americans; they are there for all American people," Tyehimba continued. "[The media] try to get you to think that African Americans have been the primary beneficiaries of these [programs], in fact European American have received just as much if not more ... when you start looking at access to welfare and food stamps."

Tyehimba said reparations proponents will continue to seek federal solutions to health care and other disparities through Congress, state legislatures, the courts and through grassroots activism that "will force the U.S. government and its citizens to look at" reparations.

Shelton said proposed solutions include tax abatements, improving public school systems, providing universal health care-particularly for slave descendants-and paying black Americans $777 billion in "past wages."

"That's in what we would call compensatory damages before you talk about the punitive damages-those things that actually violated our human rights," Shelton explained.

But the reparations movement has plenty of critics. Tom Miller, health care analyst for the Cato Institute, said reparations are not the way to get good health care.

"This is just the latest ripple of a multi-stage extortion effort," said Miller, an exercise in "finding new targets with somewhat un-empty pockets."

"From a public policy perspective," said Miller, "you may wish to, in a very targeted surgical manner ... deal with folks who have unique health care needs. That's on the basis of what their health problems are, rather than what their grandfathers or great grandparents went through.

"You can't equalize or erase everything that goes back over multi-generations and several centuries of history," he said. "You take your patient as you find him."

Aside from targeted health care programs, Miller agreed it's important to improve the economic condition of the poor in order to improve their health. Such an effort could include improving public schools, he said.

"Inserting this extraneous element [of reparations] ... isn't going to get very far; but it's just a distraction from dealing with the real problems."

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