The New York Times


August 11, 2020

Perceptions of health in America depend on who you are. A 2011 survey found that only 55 percent of white people knew about inequalities in Black and white health, compared with 89 percent of Black people.

When confronted with disparities in Black health, Americans have been slow to acknowledge that those inequalities are “not a Negro affair, but an index of social condition,” as W.E.B. Du Bois, a pioneering sociologist, wrote in 1906.

“Usually what people will say is, ‘Oh, clearly it’s genetics, clearly it’s socioeconomics, clearly it’s individual behavior,’” said Jay Pearson, an assistant professor of public policy at Duke University.

“Well, it’s not genetics at all,” Dr. Pearson said. As for income, education and behavior, “those explain away some of the difference but not all of it. What we’re really talking about is structural racism.”

Tracing the origins of Black health disparities, you can go all the way back to the slave traders’ barracoons. Historians estimate that at least half of the Africans who were captured and brought to America died before they could be sold as slaves.

But the modern history of the segregation that is keeping the Black death rate separate and unequal begins during Du Bois’s era, at the turn of the 20th century.