Home > SLAVERY & ‘OBAMACARE’ by Jack L. Daniel- PUM Contributor

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by Jack L. Daniel-PUM Contributor

            Conservative politicians and “talking heads” have been making blatantly false comparisons between President Obama’s health care program and slavery.  One of the often repeated bits of nonsense is the claim that the new federal health care program is the worst thing since slavery.  Since American slavery and its progeny might well be the quintessential expressions of human injustice, such malicious statements leave one wondering just how low some will go for political gain.  Those using these deplorable rhetorical tactics also demonstrate the extent to which our first Black President is irrationally despised. 

            For those who might have developed amnesia regarding the horrors of American slavery, they might go see “12 Years a Slave” and pay close attention to the brutal beating a White male slave owner forced a Black male slave to administer to a Black slave woman, leaving her flesh ripped open.  The deep lacerations, through skin and muscle, were the type that would require a physician to administer sutures but the slave woman was left to heal with nothing more than the prayers and home remedies mustered in the slave quarters.  After viewing this and other brutal beatings of slaves, then witness the savage rape of an innocent Black slave woman by a vulgar White male who viewed her as “his property.”  Consider the aching Black bodies working all day in the scorching hot fields, only to be physically abused at the end of the day if they failed to meet their quotas of picked cotton.   Given these as well as other ungodly acts such as separating mothers, fathers, and children at slave auctions, can any righteous person equate health care reform with slavery?

            If one remains disposed to making comparisons between slavery and modern day American circumstances, then one should look somewhere other than the new health care program.  Recall that  “slavery is a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his life, liberty, and fortune.”  With that definition in mind, I wonder how many Black male prisoners would liken themselves to slaves given that “…one in every three black men will go to prison in his lifetime.  …the country operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities. …a significant portion of the disparity in arrest rates is attributed to implicit racial bias – unconscious associations people make about racial groups. Also known as stereotypes, the biases occur when people have to make fast decisions with “imperfect” information, and the biases allow people to “fill in” the missing information and make decisions in a limited time…”http://www.sentencingproject.org/detail/news.cfm?news_id=1685&id=167

            Elaborating further on the comparisons between slavery, lynching and the criminal justice system,  William S. McFeely, Abraham Baldwin Professor of Humanities, Emeritus at the University of Georgia in Athens, wrote, The physical pain meted out under slavery and by lynchers had the purpose of creating a psychological fear designed to control a large stretch of black communities. In the past, there were two reasons for exercising that control -- the need for labor and fear of the black people who were the laborers.  In the 1990s there is no longer the same need for that labor, but the fear remains. Many in the majority community, consisting of both the affluent and those afraid of slipping from economic security, dread not only black folk, but the poor in general. Desperate poverty may lead to desperate acts, thus, those who feel threatened by this desperation use the power of the state to control those they fear. To exercise that control, there are increasing calls for and use of the death penalty. http://www.nacdl.org/champion/articles/97nov03.htm.          

            Another more profitable area one might use to make an analogy to slavery is the exploitation of millions of minimum wage workers.  In particular, consider the plight of migrant workers: “The United States boasts of having the cheapest food supply in the world available to its consumers. While this might be true on the surface, it comes at a cost. This cost can be measured in the poverty and misery that result from a system that legally allows exploitation of those who produce this food. This cost often falls on the shoulders of farm workers who labor in the fields to provide the high quality, cheap foods we enjoy and boast about. The fact is that farm workers living in poverty subsidize food prices. It is an irony that those who labor to put food on our tables cannot themselves afford to buy that food, cheap as it is trumpeted to be. …by most accounts, the gains of the past decades have been lost and conditions of these workers have deteriorated, hidden from public view in the fields, orchards and labor camps of the rural landscape.”http://www.ncccusa.org/publicwitness/mtolive/conditions.html.

            As a final illustration of a more appropriate link between slavery and modern American practices, consider sex trafficking.  As Malika Saada Saar indicated in her 2012 article, “On the 150th anniversary of when President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which set the date for the freedom of more than 3 million enslaved Americans, President Obama called for the end of modern day slavery. The president’s historical speech delivered at the Clinton Global Initiative, called for major policy changes, at home and abroad, to combat the enslavement of millions of women, men and children.

            Many of the slaves today are girls. Born in America.  Hidden in plain view.  They are the lost girls, standing around bus stops, hanging out by runaway youth shelters, or advertised online. At the Motel 8 or the Marriott, at McDonalds or the clubs.  According to the FBI, there are currently an estimated 293, 000 American children at risk of being exploited and trafficked for sex.  Forty percent of all human trafficking cases opened for investigation between January 2008 and June 2010 were for the sexual trafficking of a child. And while the term trafficking may conjure images of desperate illegal immigrants being forced into prostitution by human smugglers, 83 percent of victims in confirmed sex trafficking cases in this country were American citizens.

            The majority of these children being sold for sex are girls between the ages of 12 and 14. They are girls abducted or lured by traffickers and then routinely raped, beaten into submission, and sometimes even branded. When the girls try to run away, their traffickers torture and or gang rape them.http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/10/06/971401/girls-human-trafficking-and-modern-slavery-in-america/.

            In sum, the comparisons between slavery and the new federal health care program are so patently false that the next time you hear one it should be dismissed with the sarcastic intonation of, “Really?” 

            Really, is it really slavery to bring an end to simply being female constituting a pre-existing condition used to deny health care and, in general, to prevent insurance companies from denying health care to people with pre-existing conditions? 

            Really, is it slavery to permit children to remain on their parents’ health care system until they are in their mid-twenties?

            Really, is it slavery to bring an end to expensive health care policies that offer very limited coverage?       

            Really, is the new federal health care program equivalent to masters raping slaves; modern day sex trafficking, racial biased prison sentences; and the outrageous exploitation of migrant and other unprotected workers? 






Jack L. Daniel

Distinguished Service Professor

University of Pittsburgh

November 15, 2013

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