Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Starner Jones, MD

This email is making it's way around GOP and fundamentalist Christian email accounts. Someone sent it to the wife yesterday:

Starner Jones, MD
I am a seventh generation Mississippian and wanted to come back here after going somewhere else for college and medical school.. My extracurricular interests are golf, hunting, fishing and college football.

Dear Sirs:
During my last night's shift in the ER, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient with an expensive shiny gold tooth, multiple elaborate expensive tattoos, a very expensive brand of tennis shoes and a new cellular telephone equipped with her favorite R&B tune for a ringtone. Glancing over the chart, one could not help noticing her payer status: Medicaid. She smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and, somehow, still has money to buy beer.

And our Congress expects me to pay for this woman's health care? Our nation's health care crisis is NOT a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses. It is a crisis of culture - a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on vices while refusing to take responsibility to take care of one's self and, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance.

A culture that thinks "I can do whatever I want because someone else will always take care of me" is a culture that is infantile, immature, dependent. Life is hard and we need people who have learned how to handle it. Most of us reap what we sow. If we get in the way of life's lessons, we won't learn. Don't you agree?


There are so many problems with it...let's count the ways.

1. The biggest problem is that is has an audience. How large the audience is, of course, is anyone's guess, but unfortunately this mentality is gospel to a certain clientele of Americans.

2. It would be virtually impossible, I contend, for an American to read this email and not think of the race of the patient almost immediately. The doctor is quite intentional to include all the needed stereotypes including the R&B ringtone to concretize it. You talk to any white American living in the suburbs and, if they are honest, they'll tell you that this woman is African-American and they would include that it is no surprise that she is 'living off the government.'

--> Of course, 'welfare' is something that a lot of undeserving people get. Corporations especially financial institutions and major agribusinesses get hand-outs that allow them to thrive in our world. Even Pastors and other full-time faith leaders get a variety of tax breaks and subsidies (many of which non-profits do not get). Yet our "Christian nation" ignores the plight of those most targeted by crushing poverty.

-Despite the fact that statistically whites are by far the largest recipients of welfare, the image of a welfare recipient is black, adding yet another layer of racism to our imagination of equity in a democratic society.

3. The narrative of individual responsibility is told and re-told to white America from a young age. Everyone has an opportunity to succeed in society: this is the United States of America. Anyone who does not succeed is lazy, dumb or both.

--> Anyone who thinks that everyone in our society has the same opportunity to succeed has not studied our public school systems or the role of poverty on family life, nor has thought much about the economic and social safety nets that uphold their own life journey.

BD: In order to understand race and economics, one needs to understand the difference between wealth and income. A black family with the same income level as a white household does not have the same wealth and financial safety nets to fall back on. Not to mention that even today, a black person with the same income as a white is still 2-1 times more likely to be rejected for a loan!

4. The narrative is totally ahistorical. The next reaction from white America is so predictable: 'slavery was 150 years ago and the Civil Rights Movement was 40 years ago. That was so yesterday. Racism does not exist anymore.' And this is where our President has become a convenient source of proof: 'How can the US be racist anymore now that we have a black President who got 66 million votes?'

--> What happens early on in the story greatly affects what happens later. We all know this when we watch a movie or read a novel, but we deny it when it comes to our own society's history. Our history of racism and injustice has created the oppressive systems that continue today. The psychological affect (inferiority complex) of the role of race/ethnicity in the US has powerful implications for today.

BD: History is the story of families, and history is a knife that cuts one way and not the other!

5. The focus of the email is on the African-American woman's irresponsible behavior, making health care something that some folks (you know, the one's who take care of themselves) should get health care and others shouldn't.

--> Health care is one of those issues that highlights the myth of anyone, anywhere who claims that their actions don't affect anyone else's. This is what economists call externalities. There are positive externalities (like the family that takes care of their front yard and it increases property values for the whole neighborhood) and negative ones (like the young man who buys a large gas-guzzling truck which affects increases both pollution and gas prices).

6. Jones perfectly describes as infantile, immature and dependent the "I can do whatever I want because someone else will always take care of me" of my youth. This is very-much the ethos of the mostly-white 17-18 year old students in my Economics and Government classes. There irresponsible behavior, in whatever form, is covered by insurance provided by dad's or mom's insurance plan.

Starner Jones' email clearly represents white America's continued attempt to cling to the status quo. Why wouldn't he fear change with his 6-figure salary and all the leisure time to golf, hunt, fish and watch college football? Contrary to his conclusion, most Americans in fact, do not reap what we sow. Individually, many middle-to-upper class folks do not have to answer to their own irresponsible behavior. And whites still have the upper-hand when it comes to finding a job or getting a loan for a house or starting a small business. White privilege is still alive and well in the US, affecting virtually every area of our lives. Race matters. It always has in America and it always will. The system of injustice does not go away because we give MLK a holiday or Obama the keys to the White House.

The irony is that the US will reap what is sows. This was surely the point of the sermon MLK was working on before his murder, Why America May Go to Hell, or in Jeremiah Wright's much maligned 'God Damn America' sermon played and re-played by horrified white Americans during the 2008 Presidential campaign. The issues that plagued MLK's 1960s America still haunt us today: a gigantic gap of wealth inequality, unjust wars overseas and a white America who doesn't want to hear any of it. White American Christians must awaken to the task of lamenting and working creatively to break the racial and economic divide that is so embedded in our society. Real equality in health care, education, jobs and housing will take a shift of national priorities that must start with a willingness for white Americans to sacrifice a bit for our black, brown and red brothers and sisters.

*For more, check out Tim Wise, a white scholar who is speaking boldly about these issues and Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an African-American professor at Princeton.

--Theological Autopilot

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