November 1, 2014

Slave for a day, free for a lifetime.

Have things changed?

People in the United States of America have gradually formed two camps in the last 4 years. One half still considers Martin Luther King Jr. as the turning point in African American culture and believes that his efforts are essentially responsible for the way black people are treated now and have been the ultimate catalyst for a change in the social order. The other half considers Barack Obama’s presidency as the pivotal moment in black history within America and the one single point that has changed how African Americans are perceived today.

But there exists a small minority which believes that all these developments are nothing but superficial changes in attitudes, and issues are still exactly the same as they were 40 years ago. If you look at everything objectively; they do have hit the bull’s-eye.

Slave for a day

To understand the issues that African American face today, you have to consider the fact that changing half a millennium worth of stereotypes within half a century is a daunting task indeed. Slavery might have been abolished a long time ago by law, but there is no legal piece of paper that can govern the mind of an individual. Many people still categorize African Americans based on the redundant views held by their forefathers and the issue has come to boiling point once again after the controversial ‘Slave for a day’ program by Hampton National Historic Park, which caused outrage and sympathy in equal measure.

According to the authorities, they intended this ‘catchy title’ to attract people to the event. The event itself consisted of working in fields with scythes and hoes and other duties that a slave normally carried out like transporting water buckets. The intent was to create awareness about black history and the issues African Americans faced during these dark ages, ending with a commemoration ceremony dedicated to black history. But people across the country have responded to it with enough acid to stock a school lab for a year. One commentator summed up the outrage by saying that ‘It is too serious an issue to playact’. While the intent on the whole was admirable, the title and related advertising were considered insensitive and the program has since been renamed. Angela Roberts-Burton, the organizer and an African American herself, has defended the whole situation by stating that the activities were meant to give a glimpse of the hard work and atrocities that the slaves endured and the event wasn’t trying to combine and display the whole era in a single day for marketing purposes.

Verdict

The political ramifications are huge and the whole issue has already rocked Washington with many senators condemning the whole situation. Many support groups and NGO’s have come out in vocal opposition and are threatening to boycott any further activities. But there is another section of the public that has come in support of the Park authorities, as they believe that the whole situation is being blown out of proportion and the organizers should in fact be commended for their efforts in bringing to light the plight of the slaves. They are absolutely spot on.

The American population, fed on popcorn and prejudice, has surprisingly become more insensitive than it was two or three decades ago. Racism is still rampant and the only solution mainstream America has come up with is to make fun of it through TV and Hollywood. Masking racism with laughter isn’t correct as it tends to encourage wrong beliefs and misconceptions, that black people are ‘cool’ with comments and racial attitudes which make fun of their history or color. This immature outlook stems from an inadequate knowledge about African American history and culture and is in fact the most fundamental problem through which these stereotypes emerge. The Hampton National Park authorities should be congratulated on their efforts to get to the root of the problem and show the average American what being a slave actually felt like. This will help broaden one dimensional views and will better equip them to deal with issues of racism. This was the only program that took the issue seriously and castigating them for ‘improper advertising’ is extremely harsh when you consider the fact that these same people have no issues with insensitive advertising on TV or improper portrayal of black people in visual media.

The political class needs to show some spine by supporting the idea behind this event, or any other that take place in the future. They have to educate the electorate about the real issues that plague American society today and to convince them that being a ‘Slave for a day‘ is definitely not a problem; it’s actually a giant leap towards finding a permanent solution.

The African-American Care Act: How the Supreme Court ruling affects the Black population.

Health for all

Americans have traditionally been conservative in their views. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a liberal outlook; it’s just that thinking twice and thinking hard comes naturally to them. Every decision is scrutinized minutely and dissected over brunches and dinners. So it can be said with absolute certainty that the latest Supreme Court ruling, upholding the Affordable Care Act, is the hottest item being served on dining tables all across the USA today. The narrow 5-4 victory has split opinion evenly with many debating the overall costs and the long term negative repercussions; while others contesting that it is indeed a giant leap forward to provide cheap health services.

So where does your average African American fit in all this?

What it entails

To understand, we must first grasp the nuances of this huge healthcare initiative, which will gradually take shape over the coming years. The biggest directive of the new law is the hotly contested requirement that almost all Americans should have health insurance. The thrust of the whole initiative is to provide health coverage to the more than 30 million uninsured Americans, more than a quarter of whom are black. The bill is designed to address the rising cost of healthcare through tax funded medical facilities.

Chief justice John Roberts allied with the four liberal justices in passing the resolution. The justices have voted against two of the three arguments in favor of the compulsory insurance requirement, but they agreed that the decision can be constituted as a tax. The court also had issues with the expansion of Medicaid that the law proposed, but again stated that the government could proceed with the changes, if it didn’t threaten to withhold a state’s Medicaid allotment in case they refused to implement the expansion. The whole verdict has come as a shot in the arm for the administration and is being touted as a major symbolic victory before the upcoming elections.

The republicans, all of whom voted against the bill in congress, are accusing the democratic government of using this as a base for increased taxation. This argument holds some truth as the mandatory nature of the law will hit the disposable income available to citizens, but this can largely be ignored in favor of the long term benefits that the law aims to provide.

Verdict

Recent studies have confirmed that the Affordable Care act can help in reducing the gap between uninsured whites and blacks to about half the current estimate. But the black families need to be informed and educated about the new changes to avail the benefits in their entirety. The act also promises to provide adequate resources for training more black doctors and nurses and this a positive step, as having someone from their own community in the healthcare sector can have added advantages for African Americans throughout the country. The most important change is of course the proposed increase in age of eligible children for medical benefits to 26, and blacks are going to benefit the most from it. However hard we may try to ignore it; the fact still remains that African Americans still face racism and prejudice when it comes to employment. They constitute the largest percentage of unemployed citizens in the above 20 age bracket.

Couple this with the recent downturn in economy and you can see the dilemma facing young black adults looking to get health benefits through their employers. The increase in age is definitely not the ultimate solution to the problem, but can help spread the costs over a longer period of time. Also, the increase in funding to community health centers is largely meant for the blacks and Latinos; as they constitute more than 50% of the patient inflow. The funding is aimed at overhauling the support structure around these centers and to better equip them with latest medicines and machines.

It is for everyone to see that African Americans are the single largest beneficiaries of the judgment. Even if this was meant as political gimmick to keep the black voter base intact; the core of this act is still true to its aim of providing affordable care to minorities. Regardless of the outcome in November, blacks throughout America can be assured of proper health facilities; a giant leap to provide universal care to everyone. No matter what the detractors say; the Affordable Care Act has its heart in the right place.