Wealth and Health: Why Black, Brown, and Poor People Are Dying of COVID19

In Sickness and in Wealth

Directed by Llewellyn M Smith (2008)

Film Review

It’s no mystery and doesn’t need yet more study. Epidemiologists have known since the late seventies that health and life expectancy directly correlate with income level, irrespective of genetics, lifestyle (smoking, exercise, diet, etc), or access to medical care. This documentary is a about a 2008 study that examined four Louisville districts with varying average income levels.

Residents in the wealthiest district earned incomes averaging $100,000+. Nearly all had college degrees and owned their own homes. Their average life expectancy was 80 years.

In the second most prosperous district, most residents had high school diplomas. Although a minority owned their homes, they considered themselves solidly middle class. They had an average life expectancy of 76 years.

In the third wealthiest district, fewer were high school graduates. Many had difficulty maintaining stable employment and lived in subsidized housing. Lacking in chain supermarkets or other access to fresh produce, the district is characterized as a food desert. The average life expectancy here was 74 years. In the poorest district, unemployment was double the national average, and many residents suffered from chronic illness and received disability benefits. Most had failed to complete high school. Thirty percent lived below the national poverty level. Their average life expectancy was 70 years.

The study reinforced prior research* indicating that neither genetics, lifestyle, nor access to medical care has as much influence on health outcomes as income and social status.

Scientists believe low social status leads to poorer immune function and adverse health effects due to the total lack of control poor people have over their lives. This absence of control tends to result in high chronic stress levels that contribute directly to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and impaired immunity.

Overall African Americans had worse health outcomes than white residents regardless of income or social status. Scientists believe this relates to the chronic stress they experience related to racial slights and abuse in their interactions with white people.

More recent research indicates that growing inequality (ie tax and public spending policies that grants billionaires a larger and larger share of the wealth working people create) since the 2008 economic crash is worsening health discrepancies based on wealth and racial differences. The solution is no mystery, either. We will never end inequality so long as we allow private banks to create and control our money system. Contrary to popular belief, private banks presently create 97% of our money (out of thin air) when they issue loans.**


*The film mentions 1967-1977 The Whitehall Study https://unhealthywork.org/classic-studies/the-whitehall-study/

**See The Battle for Public Control of Money

The full film can be viewed free at Kanopy by anyone with a public library card. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into your search engine.

 

Why Civil Rights Aren’t Enough to Make the American Dream Come True

Black Lives: Trap, Why Civil Rights Aren’t Enough to Make the American Dream Come True

RT (2019)

Film Review

This video is the second of a series of nine exploring life in inner city African American communities. The first looked at life in Ferguson Missouri four years after the police murdered Michael Brown – which sparked the formation of the group Black Lives Matter (see Still dreaming of racial justice in St Louis Black neighborhoods). Clearly little had changed.

The rest of the series looks at other decaying urban ghettos, as well as examining problems unique to poor African American communities (the absence of decent jobs or housing, failing schools, teen pregnancy, gangs, and drug dealing). My first reaction on viewing the series was to question why the US media rarely reports on these issues – or efforts by local African American leaders to address them.

The second film focuses on poor Black communities in Baltimore and Washington DC. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s, the bleak living conditions poor Black Americans endure remain virtually unchanged.

The most interesting interviews in this episode are with two activist religious leaders organizing their communities to improve living conditions..

One makes an interesting observation about the determination of the FBI and CIA to infiltrate and destroy any grassroots movement that takes serious strides towards improving African American living conditions.*

He also believes the two major political parties exploit racism to win votes. Republicans provoke anti-Black and anti-immigrant sentiments among white males who feel excluded from the massive economic transformation occurring in industrialized society. Democrats use racism to line up black votes, while making notoriously empty promises to improve their lives.


*Which corresponds with my experience in Seattle’s African American community, while working with a prison reform committee and Seattle’s African American Heritage Museum.

 

 

Is South African Gearing Up for a Race War?

Reaping Divine Justice: South African Farmers Brace for Race War and Land Expropriation Debate

RT (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns proposed constitutional changes by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa that would allow the ANC government to expropriate white farmers’ land without compensation. Twenty-five years after the fall of Apartheid, 35,000 white families and businesses own 80% of South African land.* Meanwhile the Black majority suffers from 30% unemployment (50% in youths under 25), accompanied by high levels of homelessness, malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water. In fact, several studies reveal that Black Africans are now worse off economically than they were under Apartheid.

The highly religious Afrikaans farming community are arming themselves to the teeth for civil war. They anticipate that with Ramaphosa’s recent reelection, the ANC government will try to confiscate their land by force, as occurred in neighboring Zimbabwe.

The extreme racism revealed by some of their comments is mind blowing. They have no shame whatsoever in expressing their belief that God created them to fulfill a role superior because Black South Africans “lack a civilized way of life” and are “incapable of managing their own farms.”

The only serious drawback of this documentary is its failure to examine the role played by  white and foreign  owners of South Africa’s rich diamond, gold and platinum mines. These mine owners are notorious for their mistreatment of their Black workforce (which can include killing them when they strike for better wages and working conditions – see Police Fire Teargas at Miners and South Africa Miners on Strike)

There was a shortlived campaign by the ANC’s youth wing in 2011-2012 to nationalize South Africa’s mines. It was quickly sniffed out by President Jacob Zuma’s notoriously corrupt administration.**

The main argument South African economists used to oppose nationalization was that it would ruin the South African economy. They claimed the government would suck out all the profits, leading to a loss of productivity. I don’t buy it. It implies letting foreign investors suck out all the mining profits (thus systematically impoverishing the Black population) isn’t ruining the economy.

Ramaphosa purposely delayed his proposed constitutional changes pending the May 8, 2019 election results. He has now been reelected. At this point, homeless Black Africans have been peaceably squatting on large white and foreign land holdings, where they build shacks and grow small amounts of food. Thus far, the courts have sided with the landowners, but evictions are on hold pending an appeal.


*According to the New York Times, companies and trusts own the largest share of South Africa’s land (much of it acquired since the end of Apartheid). There are also a large number of white farmers with 50-year leases to farm on public land.

**In February 2018, the ANC forced former president Jacob Zuma to resign (replacing him with Ramaphosa). A clear pattern was emerging of Zuma and other ANC leaders accepting bribes and kickbacks from domestic and foreign businesses.

 

 

False Confessions: How Police Pressure Innocent People to Confess

False Confessions: How Innocent People Confess to Crime in the US

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about powerful psychological techniques American cops use to pressure innocent suspects into making false confessions. It also interviews public interest attorneys who take on the arduous work of legally exonerating prisoners whose convictions result from false confessions. More than 25% of all wrongful convictions that are overturned are based on false confessions.

One of the most common tactics American police use to extract false confessions is to lie to suspects – usually by claiming evidence that conclusively establishes their guilt. In most countries, it’s illegal to lie to suspects in this way.

The documentary examines three convictions based on false confessions that have been successfully overturned. One, the infamous Central Part 5 case (see See Central Park 5: A Classic Case of Racist Law Enforcement ), was only overturned when the real perpetrator stepped forward and claimed responsibiliy. The oldest suspect in the Central Park 5 case spent 13 years in adult prison (including four years in solitary confinement) before he being proven innocent.

The documentary can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed friend until April 10 at the Al Jazeera website: False Confessions

 

White Supremacy and the Obama Legacy

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

One World (2017)

Book Review

This remarkable book is a collection of essays about white privilege, Obama’s inability to live up to his campaign promises, and the role of his presidency in setting the stage for Donald Trump.

Coates’ approach to the topic of white privilege is largely historical. He traces the brutal reversal of Reconstruction reforms and re-institution of de facto slavery with Jim Crow laws; the Great Migration north of 6 million African Americans during the early 20th century; the deliberate exclusion of African Americans from New Deal programs such as Social Security, Aid to Families with Dependent Children and FHA (Federal Housing Administration) mortgage insurance; as well as the War on Drugs and mass incarceration of African Americans.

Coates has the best definition of white supremacy I have seen anywhere. In his words, white privilege is “banditry.”

“To be black in America is to be plundered. To be white is to execute and benefit from it.”

Coates gives numerous examples to justify this view: the exclusion of African Americans from wealth creation programs such as FHA and VA (Veterans Administration) mortgage loans, long time job discrimination and wage suppression, the recurrent decimation of prosperous Black communities via white race riots, predatory owner “contract” financing of home purchases, and predatory targeting of Blacks for subprime mortgagae they can’t repay.

My favorite essay is the one advocating for African American reparations, based on the argument that systematic exploitation of Blacks didn’t end with slavery but continues to the present day. As a precedent Coates cites the $7 billion (in today’s dollars) West Germany paid Israel in 1953 in compensation for Germany’s genocidal treatment of European Jews during World War II.

 

Why FDR Opposed the 1937 Anti-Lynching Bill

The Great Depression – Part 7 To Be Somebody

PBS (1993)

Film Review

This episode covers Depression-era lynching, racial segregation and antisemitism.

The 1930s saw a big increase in southern lynchings of African Americans. In 1935, this would lead to a major campaign by the National Association of Colored People to win FDR’s support for a federal anti-lynching bill. Still fearful of southern Democrats, Roosevelt declined to support the bill when it passed the house in 1937 and was blocked by a Senate filibuster.

In 1937 the Daughters of the American Republic (DAR) blocked African American opera singer Marion Anderson from performing at Constitution Hall. Instead Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial before an audience of 25,000.

This episode also explores the 100+ Nazi groups that emerged during the thirties in the US. They would hold marches in full Nazi regalia in 19 cities. Without a following of over 10 million listeners, antisemitic radio host Father Coughlan delivered weekly rants about “America for Americans.”

After the November 1938 Kristalnacht* resulted in the mass destruction of Jewish businesses, the arrest of 20,000 Jews and the death of 38, human rights advocates pressed FDR to accept Jewish refugees from Germany. He refused.


*Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians.

The Trump Movement: How it All Began

Trumpland: Kill All the Normies

Fusion (2018)

Film Review

This documentary, featuring Kill All the Normies* author Angela Nagle, examines the origin of the political movement that elected an openly racist, misogynist and xenophobe to the US presidency. Nagle believes that Trump initially gathered most of his support from the “dark” sections of the Internet, namely 4Chan and a variety of its spinoff sites. 4Chan is a roughly 20-year-old site where anonymous geeks – mainly teenagers – try to outdo each other with the most repulsive and/or obscene posts they can think of.

According to Nagle, 4Chan and similar sites made an ideal platform for insecure white males to anonymously scapegoat specific social groups (women, Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims) that they blame for their unhappiness. These sites came to be collectively known as the “manosphere community,” a multitude of social media sites hosted by PUA (pickup artists) and other members of the InCel (Involuntarily Celibate) known for their open hatred and degradation of women. The primary themes promoted by these sites are that women aren’t to be trusted, that they must be tricked into having sex by dwelling on their insecurities and that they should only deserve enough education to have children.

Eventually this “manosphere” would “weaponize” Twitter, by using it for toxic harassment of feminists and other publicly prominent women, with insults and threats to kill and/or rape them.

Trumps’ closest political advisor Steve Bannon, who tracked all these right wing sites, assisted Trump in mainstreaming the discontent he found there. Trump’s willingness to publicly give voice to these views provided him with an immediate fan base. Trump is the ultimate troll, drawing attention to himself by insulting people and generating outrage – a trait supporters fed up with “political correctness” particularly adore about him.

For me the most interesting segment criticizes Obama for setting the stage for the Trump movement by abandoning marginalized white workers, focusing instead on identity politics (mainly gay and gender rights) to maintain his liberal credentials.

One commentator blames backlash against against the “gender fluidity” movement, an extreme manifestation of identity politics (mainly concerned with gay and transgender rights) for the rise of the Trump phenomenon. This movement also weaponizes social media to attack views they deem to be “politically incorrect.”


*A “Normie” is Alt-Right speak for “mainstream.”

A Closer Look at Trump Supporters

Trumpland

Fusion (2016)

Film Review

This documentary, filmed a month before the 2016 election, explores the life circumstances of a cross section of Trump supporters, referred to by Hillary Clinton as “deplorables.”

Commonalities shared by this demographic are

  • recent personal or family experience with job loss, bankruptcy or foreclosure.
  • strong feelings about Wall Street outsourcing manufacturing jobs to third world countries.
  • strong feelings about US politics being a “crooked” system set up to destroy the middle class.
  • strong opposition to their perceived corporate control of the two major political parties.
  • a perception that Trump, unlike other politicians, “can’t be bought.”

When answering filmmakers’ questions about Trump’s perceived racism and xenophobia, their replies vary. Some (especially women) feel that Black Lives Matter activists have a point about the abysmal way Black people are treated in the US. Others claim that Black people (and women) are demanding special privileges not enjoyed by white men.

Most deny that Trump is racist, claiming he only wants to prevent terrorist attacks by banning immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They agree with his proposed wall because they believe his claims that most illegal Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists. This flies in the face of research indicating undocumented immigrants (who are loathe to draw attention to themselves) commit far fewer crimes than either legal immigrants or native born Americans.

Connecticut: Reducing Mass Incarceration Rates and Prison Costs

Life After Parole

Frontline (2017)

Film Review

Life After Parole is a Frontline documentary about a Connecticut program seeking to reduce mass incarceration rates and prison costs by granting low risk offenders early parole. The film follows four new parolees over a 1 1/2 year period. In each case, it’s clear their risk of re-offending directly relates to the quality of their relationship with their parole officer.

It’s clear from this documentary the effectiveness of this experiment depends  largely on the ability of parole officers to shift roles. Instead of mainly monitoring parolees for infractions of their parole conditions, they must learn to play a supportive role in helping former inmates build a new life for themselves. At the moment, they are expected to play both roles simultaneously, and criminologists question whether this is even possible.

Of the four offenders, the sole female is the only one to stay out of prison on the first try. I suspect this relates partly to the nature of her offense (the three men, all imprisoned for drug-related crimes, violate their condition of parole by relapsing), partly to strong motivation to be re-united with her son and partly to a strong relationship with a highly skilled parole officer. The woman, who is African American, has been in prison for ten years for slashing another women with a knife. The length of this sentence for an assault and battery charge is ludicrous. It speaks volumes to the blatant racism of the US criminal justice system.

 

The Movement to Abolish Prisons

Moana Jackson: Why Did Maori Never Have Prisons?

(2017)

At present, New Zealand has the second highest rate of mass incarceration in the world (after the US) – with the majority of inmates identifying as Maori. In the following presentation, Maori constitutional lawyer Moana Jackson makes the case for abolishing prisons. He cites the example of Norway, Finland and other Scandinavian countries, which decided decades ago that prisons were unsustainable and ineffective in reducing crime. In Norway, prisons are being replaced by open “habilitation” centers. In Finland, the number of prisons has been reduced from 100 to 20. The latter have mainly been replaced by mental health treatment centers.

Jackson’s main argument is that prisons are a direct result of colonization – that Maori had no prisons before European settlers arrived.* Prior to colonization, the primary Maori concern when people infringed on each other was the disruption in the net of social relationships. Different tribes set aside special facilities where victims and offenders could stay with their families to repair fractured relationships. In modern terminology, the process is referred to as “restorative justice.”** In New Zealand, we have no juvenile lock-up facilities. Instead offenders and their families meet with victims to make reparations.

Jackson also challenges the racist depiction of Maori as violent, naturally aggressive warriors. This stems from a European need to depict indigenous peoples as racially inferior to justify dispossessing. Stripping Maori of their true identity has traumatized generations of  young Maori men by providing them with a distorted image of who they really are. Peeling away this lie will be essential to abolishing prisons in New Zealand.

I was intrigued to learned that both Norway and Finland consulted with indigenous Sami (who also had no prisons prior to colonization) in devising alternatives to prison.


*Europeans also had no need for prisons prior to the Enclosure Acts that drove our ancestors off the commons. Deprived of access to land, they had no means of supporting themselves and the majority ended up in prisons and workhouses or “transported” by the courts to the US or Australia. See https://stuartjeannebramhall.com/2015/08/04/forgotten-history-the-theft-of-the-commons/

**South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is another famous example of restorative justice.