Friday, October 12, 2012

"In Polite Company"

I was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi.  Because of that, I have an accent, I have a spine of steel and I have an aversion to mosquitoes. But, there is something that I do not have - and it is something that many people, including family and friends, assume without question.  It is the feeling that in some way, my race makes me smarter, better or more hard working than anyone else. I have held my own feelings about racism since I was a small child.  I trace it back to the day in February, 1969, when my elementary school was desegregated.  I was in the first grade, and all I can remember about the day is the people screaming at a busload of children.  We got off the bus and were led through this angry protest as quickly as possible, but I still remember being afraid of these people. A few weeks later, I received my first spanking in school - for sharing a soda with a first grader.  The problem?  Her skin was black and the teacher told me, "She's not like you. You don't know where she's been." I've been a fighter for equality and justice since that experience.

Some people believe that race has become less and less important since the 1960s. These people are not wrong, because there are no longer Jim Crow laws.  However, race is still a strong motivator when it comes to certain issues - politics among them. From 1948 when the Dixiecrats walked out of the Senate chamber because of the Democrats' party platform that called for civil rights, race has been a factor in national politics. When the Dixiecrats joined with the Republicans in the mid to late 1960s, the Republican party became the party of "states' rights" in the cause of racial equality. Now, we have Republican state lawmakers who defend slavery as "good for the black people", and voter registration laws as "ending special privileges for the blacks." The people who continue to vote into office politicians with these opinions do share those opinions.  And they were dealt their harshest blow in November, 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected. The idea of a black man in the Oval Office sent these people into the same panic that consumed plantation owners when they found out that some of their slaves could read. How do I know this?  Well, as I mentioned before, some of my family and friends in the South just assume that I feel the way that they do.  Because of this, they tend to share things that aren't said "in polite company".

In December, 2008, I went to Mississippi for Christmas.  I had been in a relative's home for no more than 10 minutes when she said, "Well, your n***** President is gonna let those n****** kill us in their beds." I was confused, and I guess it showed on my face. "You know all those n***** men want to do is to break into our houses, rape us and steal everything we got." No, I am not joking, and yes, that is exactly what she said. I suppose that my retort was not very well taken, because I said, "Well, I didn't know that, but I am so glad that you told me." Her husband said, "You're just a n***** lover and a traitor to your kind." Luckily, the mother of the family broke in and reminded everyone that it was Christmas and we needed to stop talking about politics.

Shortly after his inauguration, another friend from the South began sending emails about how President Obama was a Muslim, not born in the United States, and he wanted to bring Sharia law to the United States. Of course, I couldn't stop myself and I painstakingly put together links and research to prove her wrong. After a while, she stopped emailing.  I haven't heard from her in over two years. Another friend told me on the phone, "That n***** is going to completely bankrupt this country with his free handouts to all the other n******." I asked her what she was talking about, and she said that "everyone" knew that President Obama was stealing money from the government to give his "friends" drug money. Okay, so I laughed so hard that she got offended and now we don't talk anymore. 

These are just a few examples of what I have heard from people in the Deep South.  Many of them have a hatred of President Obama that goes much deeper than his politics. This is the gut-wrenching kind of hatred, the deep seated feeling that somehow, "those" people are going to take over.  This is the same feeling the plantation owners felt when they first started to spread the rumor that all black men wanted to rape the white plantation owner's wife and daughter. The same dismissal of  humanity of Byron de la Beckwith when he shot Medgar Evers in front of his children. The same hatred that led to the killing of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Cheney for trying to register blacks to vote. But the problem is that today, these people can't proclaim their racism to the world.  They can't put on the white robes and march in the streets to protest the visit of Martin Luther King, Jr. to Birmingham, Alabama.  When their white superiority is questioned, now they must resort to finding other "reasons" for their hatred of the first black President of the United States.  And so...they call him a Muslim...they say that he wasn't born here...they say that he isn't smart enough to be President...they attack his wife as "too flashy"...they question how he got into the country's most prestigious school. They attack his policies, when they really know nothing about them. They listen to all of the right wing pundits, who they cannot see are using them for their racism. Yes, some right wing pundits know exactly where to hit these people to make them fearful of President Obama - and to get their vote for Mitt Romney.  Give them a reason...any that they can deny the truth of how they feel.

That thing that isn't talked about "in polite company".

An Open Letter to Mitt Romney

Mr. Romney,

Over the past two weeks, you have stated twice that "we don't have people who die because they lack insurance."  This shows how far you are removed from the difficult choices of everyday American citizens.

Your wife, Ann, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. You have my sympathy, because I understand how difficult it is when someone you love has an uncurable illness. However, you should consider how your journey with this horrible disease is different from many other Americans who aren't blessed with your wealth. 

Doctors agree that the most important part of health care for the multiple sclerosis patient is maintenance care - including prescription drugs, regular doctor visits, rehabilitation for weakened muscles and medical testing to confirm progression of the disease. 

The prescription drugs in use for keeping multiple sclerosis symptoms in check cost $3,000 each per month, per drug.  The fact that two or more of these drugs could be used in tandem can run the cost up to $10,000 per month.  A recent article in the medical journal Neurology states that the cost of prescription drugs for each multiple sclerosis patient from diagnosis to death is at approximately $700,000.  The study also goes on to explain:
 Avonex, for example, cost Americans with MS about $34,000 for the year in 2010. The price in the UK was equivalent to about $12,000 -- because that's all the National Health Service will pay for the drug. And costs are only going up. Makers of the DMDs have raised their prices since last year, in response to the approval of the first oral MS drug -- Gilenya, made by Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG.The annual cost of that medication in the U.S. will be about $48,000. But since it's a pill, the medication is expected to cut significantly into sales of the other DMDs. (Reuters, July 20, 2011)
As the website "Global Health Safety" reports:

Due to the excessive costs of MS drugs and therapy, there are a significant number of people who can’t afford their treatment. For these individuals, their only option is to do nothing and go without therapy that would improve their quality of life or the length of the life that they have to live. Individuals not being able to get protection from this illness is kind of sad, and once people have arrived at a point where they qualify for disability insurance coverage and SSI, it’s most likely too late to reverse the damage that has been done.

So, Mr. Romney, while you can most definitely pay for any prescription drugs, rehabilitation, hospitalization or tests that your wife may need in order to keep the disease at bay, there are a "significant" number of others who can't.  Some of them have insurance, but as C Steven Tucker writes on his website:

Because there are no HIPAA portability protections for individual policy holders , this uninsurable status can last for many years and sometimes for life depending on the specific pre-existing condition you have been diagnosed with. Some of the pre-existing medical conditions that  render an applicant uninsurable on an individual policy are: Heart Attack, Stroke, Diabetes, Cancer,  Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Degenerative Arthritis and a host of other pre existing conditions. In addition, there are applicants who have a combination of controlled pre existing conditions but since they have more than three “ratable conditions” they are also labeled uninsurable.

So, once again, this is directly relational to your position on healthcare coverage.  You say that you will:

Let me ask you a question, Mr. Romney - would you feel the same if you didn't have $250 billion to pay for Mrs. Romney to have the best care for her multiple sclerosis?  If you had to work three and four jobs just to pay for her healthcare costs, and to make up for the cut in income because she couldn't work - would you still feel that it is acceptable to allow insurance companies to exclude those with pre-existing conditions if they haven't maintained continuous coverage?  What if you only had one house, one car and five kids to support?  What if you wanted to send your kids to college - but every single penny you made went to keep your wife from dying of a SYMPTOM to a nonfatal disease?

Mr. Romney - the truth is that people in the United States die every day because they don't have health insurance.  The truth, a bit closer to home for you is this:  THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DIE FROM THE VERY DISEASE YOUR WIFE HAS -BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE.  You, sir, with all due respect, have no respect for the people in this country who are fighting a losing battle against diseases for which there is no cure - but who can't get the help they need.  You have no respect for those who give their lives to make the lives of their sick loved ones better - even a little bit better - with all of the sacrifice in their heart.  Please understand, I believe in the love that you and Mrs. Romney share and I see how devoted you two are to each other and your family.  However, neither of you have had to choose between paying the electric bill and buying the medicine that will keep your wife from suffering with the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis. You haven't stood beside your children's beds and wondered how you would keep them in clothes - when you have to pay a $25,000 bill from a hospital the last time your wife had an episode of respiratory failure.

This is why you are not qualified to be our President, Mr. Romney.  Because you have time and time again shared your dismissal of the people on whom this country was founded - the people who work hard, pay their bills, love their families and will do without to keep them strong. By not understanding this principle, you do not understand this country. When you have never had to suffer, then you do not know what it means to pull yourself up and work your hardest to make it.  When you have never had to face financial problems, you have no respect for those who do, and it is easy to dismiss them as "lazy" or "unwilling to change their lives". They are neither, and you should be ashamed for even thinking it so.  If not for a change in your birth, you could be any one of them...and it might have been better for you if you had.