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America’s race-divide in health and happiness….

America’s race-divide in health and happiness….

The illness and death that occurs in coming months is likely to aggravate the country’s already extreme inequality.

By Nazarul Islam

Most Americans have known in their bones that things with our world weren’t right, long before it became a crisis. We may become conscious of racism in America, however—that does not mean, those who do so are racists. The tension between people is palpable, and the ideal of what it means to be and look American becomes a preoccupation to folks around the country, including you and me.

The previous year 2020 focused that black people became the center of the universe, white people got evicted from the human race, and buying toilet paper became the new gold rush. It is common to hear about two different demographic groups that are hesitant to receive a Covid-19 vaccination: Republican voters and racial minorities, especially Black and Latino Americans.

The two groups seem to have different motivations. For Republicans, the attitude is connected to a general skepticism of government and science. For Black and Hispanic Americans, it appears to stem from the country’s legacy of providing substandard medical treatment, and sometimes doing outright to harm to minorities.

These ideas all have some truth to them. But they also can obscure the fact that many unvaccinated Republicans and minorities have something in common: They are working class. And there is a huge class gap in vaccination behavior.

As you can see, working-class members of every group are less likely to have received a vaccine and more likely to be skeptical. No matter which of these groups we looked at, we see an education divide. In some cases, different racial groups with the same education levels — like Black and white college graduates — look remarkably similar.

This poll did not break out Asian-Americans, but other surveys have, and it’s consistent: Asian-Americans have a higher median income than Black, Hispanic or white Americans and also a higher vaccination rate. All of this has pointed to the fact that the class divide is bigger than the racial divide.

There are still differences by ethnicity, because racial inequities are a reality of U.S. life. Many Hispanic Americans, across social classes, say either that they want a shot but have not yet received one or that they are waiting to see how the vaccines affect other people. And there are even bigger differences by partisanship, with many Republicans, including professionals, skeptical of the vaccines.

Income and wealth have grown much more quickly over recent decades for people with a bachelor’s degree than people without one. Marriage, church attendance and self-reported happiness have declined more for the working class than the professional class; chronic pain, obesity and alcohol consumption have increased more. As the title of the book indicates, life expectancy has also diverged, partly because of deaths from alcoholism, drug overdoses and suicide.

My aim is not to provide excuses for black behavior or to absolve blacks of personal responsibility. But when the new black conservatives accent black behavior and responsibility in such a way that the cultural realities of black people are ignored, they are playing a deceptive and dangerous intellectual game with the lives and fortunes of disadvantaged people.

We indeed must criticize and condemn immoral acts of black people, but we must do so cognizant of the circumstances into which people are born and under which they live. By overlooking these circumstances, the new black conservatives fall into the trap of blaming black poor people for their predicament.

It is imperative to steer a course between the environmental determinism and the blaming-the-victims perspective.

Frequently, people are not officially employed by the company where they work, which robs them of the pride that comes from being part of a shared enterprise. They don’t belong to a labor union, either. The timing of their work shifts can change unexpectedly. Many parents are trying to raise children without a partner.

Though race divisions have continued, I still believe that education is becoming more important relative to race, and perhaps that might be true for vaccinations, too. The U.S. is on the verge of victory over Covid. But the disease remains a threat to millions of Americans. The illness and death that occurs in coming months is likely to aggravate the country’s already extreme inequality.

In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide and pernicious consequences of our maldistribution of wealth and power. We simply cannot remain in the twenty-first century, at each other’s throats, even as we acknowledge the weighty forces of racism, patriarchy, economic inequality, homophobia, and ecological abuse on our necks.

Today, we are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell.

None of us alone can save the nation or world. But, each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.


About the Author

Nazarul IslamThe Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles.