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Structural racism calls for more than another New Deal

July 27, 2020

Topics: Quote of the Day

Without having an honest conversation about how we got here, we will never be able to move on and heal.

By Susan Rogers, M.D.
Crain’s Chicago Business, Letters to the Editor, July 10, 2020

On reading the article “Why isn’t there a New Deal 2.0 in the mix?” (Crain’s Forum on Transportation, June 8), I found it surprising how the author lauded the New Deal as if it solved so many of the financial problems that the nation faced in recovering from the Great Depression without looking at the problems that it created.

It did solve many financial problems but at the expense of disenfranchising Blacks who lived here. Social Security, one of the major projects of this bill, intentionally excluded farmers and domestics, two of the few areas of the economy where Blacks could find employment. When it created Aid to Dependent Children, the beneficiaries were almost only white women. When it expanded several years later to include Black women, it then became known as an “entitlement.”

Other federal programs such as the GI Bill did not benefit Black GIs. They received less than 1 percent of the school loans, mortgages, job trainings, etc. Racial segregation, encouraged, allowed and condoned by federal and local government, created the fertile ground on which these inequities thrived. So the New Deal is so often looked at as a great success, but in reality it is exactly what allowed the racial inequities that already existed to continue to grow into what we see today.

Recent COVID policies continue to disenfranchise poor people and minorities. Small Black businesses were left out of the CARES Act. Low-wage workers who have no health or sick leave benefits yet are labeled as essential workers are disproportionately Black and are most impacted by the COVID pandemic. They are placed in a situation where there is no good choice. They must go to work and risk exposure to COVID or stay home and risk hunger and homelessness. Is it by accident that the essential workers of today are treated as if they live in modern-day slavery? The police brutality that has always been here has now been made so clear and finally reached a tipping point that no one can continue to deny.

We need to address the structural racial inequities that these prior and current programs created and encourage. History makes it clear that it is not by accident that poor people are disproportionately minorities and immigrants. We need to teach this history rather than continue to live in this sterile bubble that has been created. Without having an honest conversation about how we got here, we will never be able to move on and heal. Doing more of the same will continue to get us more of what we already have.

Dr. Susan Rogers is president-elect of Physicians for a National Health Program.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

For those of us who think that we’ve already addressed most of the problems in racism, we need to get real. For us single payer Medicare for All advocates, enacting and implementing an equitable, universal system of health care financing will be an important step forward, but we’ll still have so much more work to do.

PNHP members, as activist physicians and other healthcare professionals, are particularly qualified to speak up on behalf of health care justice for all, but in supporting single payer health care reform, we have been a single issue advocacy organization. We need to be part of the greater movement wherein our single issue is social justice for all – that means everyone.

But we have to guard against compromising social solidarity by acts such as paring down today’s message in the streets by saying simply, “All lives matter.” Seemingly equitable solutions cannot be allowed to gloss over the deep rooted problems that need our uncompromising attention.

Stay informed! Visit www.pnhp.org/qotd to sign up for daily email updates.

About the Commentator, Don McCanne

Don McCanne is a retired family practitioner who dedicated the 2nd phase of his career to speaking and writing extensively on single payer and related issues. He served as Physicians for a National Health Program president in 2002 and 2003, then as Senior Health Policy Fellow. For two decades, Don wrote "Quote of the Day", a daily health policy update which inspired HJM.

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