Tag: segregation

Underemployment in the Good Old Days

When people reminisce about the old days when everything worked well, it’s partly because when women and non-white people can’t advance into high-level jobs no matter how smart they are, you wind up with really smart people doing underpaid or unpaid work. Which they do extremely well! It should make you a little sad when somebody does a low-skill job with exceptional skill. (Job, not hobby.) It means something systemic is broken.


Katie says: My 95-yr-old grandmother remarked to my mother once that Black people seemed to be getting smarter. My mom said something about how they’ve always been smart but didn’t always have access to education. My grandmother thought about this for a minute and then wept, saying “what a waste…”

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Pre-existing conditions and viral ideas

I keep hammering at denial of pre-existing conditions because it’s a really weird talking point which has come up over and over again as a rallying cry – the healthcare equivalent of “build the wall.” Or the “rampant fraud” everyone keeps seeking but not finding in places like the food stamp program. People are, at this point, emotionally attached to the idea, in a way they can’t fully articulate.

Coverage-deniers are theoretically trying to block cheaters who only pay for insurance when they’re sick and drop it when they get healthy (so they’re guaranteed to always take more out of the pool than they put in). The classic “you always want to share my lunch, but you never share your lunch.” That’s the rationale for walling out or upcharging people who got sick during coverage gaps (but not sick people who switch insurance without a gap).

It sounds rational, but it’s covering up a more irrational fear. If the real fear is cheaters, there are other ways to penalize them – like the individual coverage mandate, which literally makes you pay for not having insurance. There are also mechanisms to make health insurance sticky, like limited enrollment periods (and massive enrollment paperwork) which mean you can’t pick up insurance just the minute you get sick or drop it the minute you get well.

In general, these things are opposed by the same people who think denying pre-existing coverage sounds fair, even though they directly address the “cheater” problem.

I figure there has to be a deeper disgust reaction underneath – maybe disgust of poverty and sickness, and a visceral instinct to bar the door against contagion. (Keep them out of my pool! Even the word pool reminds you of segregated swimming pools, the fear of contamination spread through shared water.) Maybe some of it goes back to the AIDS crisis – the gay plague – and biblical tales of God sending a pestilence to wipe out the enemies of God’s people – although God mainly sent plagues against the Egyptian ruling class, whose modern analogues would have insurance.

This is dream stuff, not logic.

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The Man Who Killed Jim Crow

On day 21 of black history month, I want to thank a man who has been invisible to me until now. He shouldn’t have been; the fact that he wasn’t in my high school US history textbook is alarming. His name was Charles Hamilton Houston, and he did as much to shape America as Henry Ford or any of the vice presidents.

He has been called the man who killed Jim Crow. As Thurgood Marshall said, “We owe it all to Charlie.”

Marshall, who successfully argued in front of the US Supreme Court in Brown v. The Board of Education that “separate cannot be equal,” was Houston’s protege and star pupil, working with a legal team and strategy Houston masterminded, although it didn’t come to full fruition until after Houston’s death (of a heart attack, age 54).

Houston was a graduate of Amherst and Harvard (where he was on the staff of the Harvard Law Review) and a veteran of WWI (he served in France). He built Howard University’s law school into a full-time, accredited instituion; during his time there, he was directly responsible for the training of a quarter of the black lawyers in the US. In 1934, he left Howard to form the fighting force that was the NAACP’s Legal Defense Team, who he assigned to a series of cases which set up the trail of legal dominoes that ended in the supreme court.

He made a huge difference to my life, particularly my decade in public education. I’m not black, and I’m not one of the people who most needed his help. But I live in the world he fought for. I can’t imagine the alternative as anything but horrible and sad and frightening.

Thank you, Mr. Houston. Thank you for making it possible for me to know so many of the people I love. Thank you for saving me.