By Gwendolyn Wallace
Black Agenda Report
Like prisons, healthcare systems are part of the way that empire reproduces itself.
“Anti-blackness has not distorted medical relationships and institutions, so much as built them.”
The past six months have highlighted the fight that Black people are in against state violence, both in the form of policing and the US healthcare system. Though the ruling class cries that the coronavirus pandemic is “the great equalizer ,” the virus continues to demonstrate exactly who our capitalist health-care system was designed to keep alive. So far, across the country, about 42% of coronavirus deaths have been Black people , even though they were only about 21% of the population in the areas analyzed. InLouisiana , over 70% of people who died were Black (despite Black people being only 32% of the population). Along with high rates of death, countless stories have emerged about Black people turned away from hospitals, struggling to access testing, and being disproportionately arrested or ticketed for not following public health guidelines. On top of this, uprisings have taken hold across the country, starting in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd. Many groups are calling for police to be de-funded and for the abolition of the prison industrial complex. In the midst of a pandemic, it is crucial to understand how the prison industrial complex intersects with the medical industrial complex, and commit to abolishing both.
“The virus continues to demonstrate exactly who our capitalist health-care system was designed to keep alive.”
Though medical institutions portray themselves as benevolent and objective, the structural reality is that biomedicine was forged in the political and social terrain of colonialism. Commonly known as the medical industrial complex, we are all affected by a huge system that provides “healthcare” services for profit and makes billions of dollars each year. Mia Mingus, a writer and community organizer who focuses on disability justice, helped put together the above detailed visua l of the medical industrial complex along with other organizers like Cara Page and Patty Berne. The diagram shows how four “core motivations” serve as the foundational structuring agents of the four sections of the visual. Desirability structures health, population control structures safety, charity and ableism structure access, and eugenics structure science and medicine. This is what makes the medical industrial complex so profitable.
Along with its foundations in anti-blackness, the medical industrial complex is also inherently gendered and contoured by ableism, fatphobia, and anti-transness. Internationally, all of these systems of domination affect vaccine development and allocation of medicines. This diagram also beautifully illustrates how all of these parts are interconnected and serve to sustain each other. In the bottom right-hand corner, we can see that the prison industrial complex has its own place in the diagram. The abolition of the prison industrial complex requires the knowledge that our systems of medical “care” have been built on carceral logics, from the criminalization of domestic violence survivors to psychiatric hospitals. In “Are Prisons Obsolete?” Angela Davis writes that board members from the Corrections Corporation of America and the Hospital Corporation of America, one of the first private hospital companies, worked together to help found Correctional Corporations of America in 1983. Like prisons, healthcare systems are part of the way that empire reproduces itself.
“Our systems of medical “care” have been built on carceral logics.”
Black health disparities are not an incidental feature of the healthcare system. The coronavirus pandemic has further demonstrated that the medical industrial complex is so deeply deleterious to Black people that reforms like increasing the number of Black doctors or unconscious bias training for healthcare professionals are not enough to ensure Black people’s live. The values of the medical industrial complex run in contradiction to the well-being of all Black people. In her essay The Death Toll , Saidiya Hartman writes, “the health-care system is routinely indifferent to black suffering, doubting the shared sentence of bodies in pain, uncertain if the human is an expansive category or an exclusive one, if indeed a human is perceived at all.” The pledge to “do no harm” has little meaning when Black people are still excluded from the human. Ultimately, Black “health” is an impossibility in a system built and sustained by anti-black violence and logics […]