Racial health inequities have been an issue in the United States since at least the nineteenth century when the Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation in the South, were put in place. The end of Segregation occurred in 1964. While Civil Rights did much to improve discrimination caused by segregation, there are still issues of inequality that remain, like in healthcare.
On March 20, 2002, the Institute of Medicine, now known as the National Academy of Medicine, released a report, titled “Unequal Treatment: What Healthcare Providers Need to Know About Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare” (Institute of Medicine). It provided the first comprehensive look at racial disparities in healthcare among people who have health insurance (Stolberg). Racial health disparities were a topic that had been looked at well before this study, but the report claimed that a majority of the problem was due to lack of access offered to minorities. For instance, the Institute of Medicine’s report found that blacks have higher death rates when it comes to cancer, heart disease, and H.I.V. infection (Stolberg). Additionally, blacks are twice as likely to develop diabetes than whites, which also contributes to higher death rates. These outcomes were due to the fact that the appropriate medications, surgeries, transplants, or treatments were less likely to be given to African Americans.
The persistent gap in health care due to race is the subject of Mike Luckovich’s political cartoon, published on March 25, 2002, in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the cartoon, we see a black couple reading a newspaper with the headline, “Report: Whites Get Better Healthcare.” In response to the paper’s headline, the husband comments to his wife, “I finally understand why Michael Jackson bleached himself.”
Michael Jackson was, a very successful African-American singer, songwriter, and dancer, but he was also the subject of much controversy in the late twentieth century. One controversy involved his lightening skin tone. People began speculating about Jackson’s appearance once his skin color began to noticeably lighten. They assumed that the change was done with intentional bleaching treatments. Additionally, he had plastic surgery to change some of his facial features, such as his chin and nose. Due to the many cosmetic changes, many people speculated that Jackson was intentionally changing his appearance in order to try to look white (Harris). In a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, however, Jackson said “I’m a black American. I am proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race, and I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride and dignity of who I am.” (Park). He explained that the reason his skin began to lighten was due to vitiligo, a disease that causes the loss of skin pigmentation.
The meaning behind Luckovich’s cartoon resonates with that of John Knott’s 1931 cartoon, “The Shadow” (Dallas Morning News 18), and its accompanying editorial, “The Black White Plague” (Dallas Morning News 18). Knott’s cartoon and the editorial were published during the middle of a big tuberculosis epidemic. Due to racial segregation of the time, whites were given priority over blacks when it came to healthcare. This neglect of equal health care, at the time, led to many black deaths. Both Luckovich’s and Knott’s cartoons illustrate how race affects people’s access to healthcare; and both cartoons depict the negative effects resulting from discrimination in healthcare.
Inequities in healthcare today still remain a problematic issue. People of color place their trust in the healthcare system, hoping to get the best care possible, are often let down. Mike Luckovich’s cartoon, highlights the sad fact that the color of one’s skin can change the way one is treated within the healthcare system, an issue that has persisted for the past three centuries.
Harris, John E. “Did Michael Jackson Have Vitiligo?” University of Massachusetts Medical School, 18 Jan. 2016, www.umassmed.edu/vitiligo/blog/blog-posts1/2016/01/did-michael-jackson-have-vitiligo/.
Institute of Medicine. “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care.” Nationalacademies, 20 Mar. 2002, www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2003/Unequal-Treatment-Confronting-Racial-and-Ethnic-Disparities-in-Health-Care/PatientversionFINAL.pdf.
Knott, John. “The shadow” Illustration. Dallas Morning News 25 Feb 1931: 18. News Bank. Web. 2 May 2018. < http://infoweb.newsbank.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=V50N4DWHMTUyNTc2MTEzOS4yNjA3MDU6MToxMjoxMjguODMuNjMuMjA&p_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-104D1FAAE39AFF33@2426398-104D1FAB9E250B09@17
Luckovich, Mike. Illustration. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 25 March 2002. AJC. Web. 2 May 2018. < https://www.ajc.com/news/opinion/michael-jackson-cartoons-mike-luckovich/L7LO4mAObSWzVoaI5iSytK/#6>.
“Michael Jackson.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 18 Jan. 2018, www.biography.com/people/michael-jackson-38211.
Park, Madison. “In Life of Mysteries, Jackson’s Changed Color Baffled Public.” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 July 2009, www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/07/06/skin.color.vitiligo/.
Smith, Troy D. “Medicine and Medical Care.” Gale Library of Daily Life: Slavery in America, edited by Orville Vernon Burton, vol. 2, Gale, 2008, pp. 48-49. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3057200169/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=b844d00c. Accessed 2 May 2018.
Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. “Race Gap Seen in Health Care Of Equally Insured Patients.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Mar. 2002, www.nytimes.com/2002/03/21/us/race-gap-seen-in-health-care-of-equally-insured-patients.html.
Urofsky, Melvin I. “Jim Crow Law.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 19 July 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Jim-Crow-law.