It is unusual for mainstream media to tackle problems such as institutional racism in the health care system, and for that reason alone it was exciting for our campaign to get the kind of exposure that it did last night. This was not merely a situation of “any press is good press,” either. From our point of view, CNN’s coverage was sensitive, thoughtful and true to what we have heard in the community when the cameras are not running.
But the reaction to the story outside our community–outside the Bronx, outside the civil rights & racial justice community–has been far less approving. The general tenor of the commentary by the CNN viewing public is that blacks should stop complaining because whites get bad care too. This is tragic because it is partly true. White people absolutely do get bad care within the American health care system, particularly if they are not wealthy or are uninsured. In fact, one of the claims in our case is based on a federal law that, among other things, makes it unlawful for hospitals to discriminate against patients because they are on public health insurance.
However, it does not follow from this that blacks and Latinos should stop complaining about the inferior care that they systematically receive within the system. No, the truth is we should all be complaining loudly and constantly about the failures of the existing health care system. People of color are disproportionately and profoundly more likely to get the short end of the health care stick, and so we should be raising our voices and demanding change with all the energy we can muster. But all of those white people who wrote on CNN’s blog, sharing their personal stories of pain within the health care system, should speak out too — not in opposition, but in solidarity. Otherwise, the whirling maelstrom that is the American health care system will sink all our boats.
For a similar view, please check out this post by Dr. Neil Calman, one of the founders of Bronx Health REACH and the physician featured in the CNN news story.