The Shiz: Where We Stand (2009)

The Shiz’s debut presents a taut brand that straddles every branch of the roots rock tree from bluegrass to afro-punk, proving to be unexpectedly stirring and a damn good time. The offering skillfully balances expansive grooves without losing sight of the anatomy of a great song, yielding easy tunes with a message and an edge, drenched in the soul of the south.

Unexplained Phenomena – Race, Class and Health Care in America

Really? Are you kidding me? What is going on America? You people can’t possibly believe our health care system works as it is. I think the absence of a genuine discussion about health care reform is about something else entirely, but are we as a nation ready to talk about it?

It has something to do with why, at one point in this country, it was constitutionally sound to consider some of the people living here less than human. I would even go so far as to say it might have something to do why a Harvard professor can get arrested in his own home by an officer who is responsible for his precinct’s racial sensitivity training. And dare I say it? I think it has something to do with why people think it’s ok to carry automatic assault weapons to presidential assemblies, and why said people are not being arrested, harassed or otherwise antagonized by law enforcement agents.

I know it sounds as if I’m going to over simplify the issue and say it’s about racism. I am, after all, a Black American woman and everyone knows we love to play the race card, right?

Well, if I were to place that ace on the table, it would be hard to dispute. I could tell you the story of my father’s family who were sharecroppers in rural GA growing cotton and sugarcane on land the family had once worked as slave labor. Under the sharecropping system, they were never able to make enough to live on. Furthermore, only 3 out of 13 kids were able to attend school. My father was one of the 3 but he failed 5th grade because he had to work the land.

Long story short, my grandfather buckled under the fiscal strain and actually tried to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. The problem is he didn’t die right away. They took him to the hospital but he was sent to the back door because he was black. They left him at the back door for several hours and by the time they let him in it was too late.

But here’s the thing. Racism may have killed my grandfather, but racism lives because of a much larger illness. I believe there is a collective neurosis we as human beings have inherited that says some people have more inherent value, and by extension more rights, than others. Although I’m no expert, I believe this unexplained phenomenon occurs even in homogeneous cultures that don’t necessarily carry the weight of centuries of racially driven indecencies that this country bears. So although I won’t blame our health care crisis on racism, I sure can use that strange little institution to elucidate a larger dilemma.

There was a time in this country where a “federal ratio” declared certain people “3/5ths” the value of other people to protect financial and political interests. The ratio was originally proposed so that Southern states could be taxed “according to their numbers and their wealth “(Jefferson), but was ultimately adopted so as to procure the Southern states more congressional representation, according to their numbers, as it were.

I am sad to admit that when I was taught about the “Three-fifths compromise” in grade school, it made perfect sense to me. “Of course the slaves shouldn’t be counted as full people,” I thought. I followed the logic of both sides and found it a completely reasonable solution. I even equated myself with the population that was being declared “less than fully human” as described by some accounts, and never registered a single chill in my spine at the notion.

(On a side note, I recall covering this material in social studies and history classes at the ages of 6, 9, 11 and 13. I can’t say the “that was then, this is now” consolation was all that effective at such an impressionable time in my life.)

Now, as a thinking adult, I have to say I find it appalling for one class of people to presume they have the authority to come to some consensual agreement, for whatever reason, over another’s value, especially when the calculation is to serve an end as coarse and gauche as taxation or political gain.

I would assert that we still live the legacy of such reasoning. In regards to health care, where once it was acceptable to determine your inherent value and therefore access based on race, later it became about class. If you were affluent or gainfully employed, you could have access to care. If you were poor and/or unemployed, sorry. Now it has progressed even further, if you are affluent, gainfully employed full-time and have never been sick, hooray! You’re in the club. Otherwise, tant-pis!

From the corporate point of view, they’re protecting their bottom line like the North attempting to tax the South, and guess what? the bottom line is more important than the lives of the people who need healing. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for an insured person to pay premiums regularly (money they will never see again if nothing ever goes wrong), pay their co-pay at the doctor’s office, and then be denied coverage for the very medicine or treatment their degreed and licensed medical professional prescribes. I read a recent account where an insurance company declared anesthesia for knee surgery an “unnecessary procedure.” Well admittedly I was not there, but somehow I doubt that back in the Civil War, they made amputees, civilian or otherwise, pay for the vodka, whiskey or moonshine they poured down their throats before the doctors took their limbs.

From the social point of view, both the “haves” and “have nots” are so afraid of “not having enough” that we navigate the issues from a fear and separatist based “poverty mentality,” sub-consciously turning to our inherited neurosis to support our right to be afraid. Even if our children are no longer being raised to believe their different raced neighbor has different colored blood, they are not protected from the other, more socially acceptable ways in which we judge and assess each other’s worth.

We (and by we, I mean those of us who want to let the broken system keep getting worse) still think we have the right to declare which lives are worth healing, and from my experience we’re a pretty judgmental bunch. Have you listened to how some of these conversations go? A lot of the arguments I’ve heard against health care reform are about how they, as tax payers, shouldn’t be responsible for certain people’s care: the smoker, the alcoholic, the fat lady, etc.

I see at least a few gaps here:
1. It ignores all the people who don’t fall into one of those categories.
2. It implies that people who did not have leave it to beaver lifestyles and meal plans should be shiz-out-of-luck if they ever get sick.
3. It presupposes that a public option paid for by taxes is the only possible solution.
4. It doesn’t address the abuses already in practice by the industry.
5. It ignores the fact that we all end up paying for it one way or another…

We are afraid of each other and we don’t care enough about each other’s well being to get over it. I think the industry takes advantage of our confusion because it makes real change that much harder to accomplish. We are indirectly protecting the “industry” of health care while deflecting it’s primary purpose which is to generate, provide and assist in efforts pertaining to health and care.

Let’s face it. We are in an entangled, dynamic system. My question is how do we engage that truth in a way that actually works?

At this point, I don’t think anyone could convince me that our current health care system works. We’ve all had experiences to the contrary, and we get sad, maybe even angry, but we don’t get outraged. We don’t say “Are you kidding me?” We don’t demand the fundamental ideological changes that would turn the whole thing inside out.

Why is this? Why isn’t health care a civil rights issue? Why isn’t it tied to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” Why are so many Americans so desperate not to rock this leaky bucket of a boat?

They tell me the issue is money and politics, corporate structures and power, and that the media is feeding the frenzy because they are a part of those structures. Well, haven’t we been here before? Our system has been deciding for decades what race and what class of person was worthy of care, and what degree of care they should be allowed. That entire line of reasoning has always been corrupt, and has now brought us to a place where everyone is at risk of a ridiculous decision being made by a desk clerk bureaucrat to protect a corporate entity’s bottom line.

I think WE are the ones who must create this change. WE are the ones responsible. The president WE elected is not going to accomplish it, and why should he even bother since WE THE PEOPLE seem to be on the fence about whether or not WE want health care reform?

WE THE PEOPLE have navigated impenetrable canyons and brought water to barren lands. WE THE PEOPLE upended the major financial and social institution of slavery because it was the right thing to do. We have the resources to make this happen. The steps are very simple. First we must decide that creating a system that grants ample access to health care to everyone is the right thing to do. Then we decide how to do it.

We are good, strong people. So what gives?

Songs related to this article:
Winona Laduke from The ShizWhere We Stand
Wednesday’s Child from Sleeper’s Wake