Looking out: Learning, early on


Learning, early on

By Brandon Astor Jones

"How does a doctor or a health care worker teach a mother that her children must always wash their hands after playing with the family kitten when [their] tin house is not connected to water? — Alicia Larriera in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Recently, a friend sent me a clipping from the Sydney Morning Herald showing a travelling doctor conducting a makeshift medical examination from the trunk of her car, while the patient sits on the rear bumper. There is a little girl standing nearby, looking up at Dr Paine. The child is holding a little white puppy. In front of the child there is a black mongrel dog; she is probably the mother of the puppies — there are two more black puppies in the fore and background.

Beyond the doctor's car, to the left, there is a clapboard shanty. Strewn precariously at various angles atop it is a corrugated tin roof. Leaning against the structure there is a battered folding ladder; one wonders about its purpose. The structure itself is leaning as well, not unlike similar shanties in the USA, India, South Africa and many other places.

There are no running-water facilities or built-in electricity. Clearly, poverty reigns supreme in the lives of those who are forced to live under such conditions. A growing number of the world's population currently lives this way, or worse.

For Aborigines in Australia, many of whom subsist in the kind of conditions I have just described, poverty is fatal. Their death rate is six to eight times higher than their white Australian counterparts'. The same is true for most of the world's people of colour. Indeed, in the United States, many African-Americans — because of the preventable diseases that go hand in hand with poverty — do not live past puberty.

The caption beneath the scene described reads: "An Australian disgrace. Filthy lives, early deaths and a car boot clinic." There are those among wealthy white Australians who roundly object to spending more than A$1.4 billion on health care for Aborigines — much for the same selfish reasons that many (mainly white) people in the USA, have rejected Bill Clinton's doomed health care plan.

It makes no difference whether it is the USA, Australia or any other country, on the surface, the growing health care controversies all over the world appear to be about money.

Beneath that surface, in my opinion, the real core issues are class and race — not necessarily in that order. If you are poor, and/or a person of colour, your health has a greater chance of being bad for no other reason than the fact that you are forced to live in poverty. I agree with Larriera. It is a "disgrace", all over the world!

The worst of everything that is life-threatening is systematically dumped into your life if you are poor, but even more so if you are also a person of colour. Racism, more than any other single factor, dictates the course of your life from cradle to grave.

In overt and a multiplicity of subtle ways, racist societies teach racism even to little toddlers, often to the very toddlers that racism affects most. The people who are least affected by racism are the ones who like to pretend that it does not exist. That ought not be the case, but it is; and, if you think it is not being taught to the world's children, go back to the beginning of this article and note how easily and unconsciously the little girl chose the white puppy over the black ones.
[The writer is a prisoner on death row in the United States. He is happy to receive letters commenting on his columns. He can be written to at: Brandon Astor Jones, EF-122216, G2-51, GD&CC, PO Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233, USA.]