Race has played a critical role in determining the current situation of the citizens in the United States. According to California Newsreel (2003), a film focusing on racial matters and the living standards of the US inhabitants before and after the World Wars describes the situation. There was a massive immigration from southern and eastern Europe during the early 20th Century, which brought Hebrews, Greeks, Italians and other ethnics to America. Naturalization Act required one to be ‘white’ to be granted citizenship. After the World War II, some races such as the Jews and other European groups fared better (ibid). The whites received favor from the policies that made government direct loans to white homeowners. Even those who had been considered not quite white benefitted from the favors. The blacks were denied the opportunities and thus they could not accumulate assets and had no upward mobility. At present, the average black family is worth approximately 1/8 the worth of the average white family (ibid). The difference is as a result of the differences in the worth of family’s residence. Therefore, there is a wide gap of wealth between the African American or the Hispanic families and the white families. These inequalities render blacks and Hispanics unable to meet health needs. The environment they live in is not as clean as that of the whites and thus, they are easily attacked by diseases. They cannot afford quality health care. Furthermore, the inequities are passed on to children; the children of the poor inherit poverty and the children of the rich inherit wealth.
Marmot (2005), asserts that poor social and economic conditions influence health throughout life. Those who are down the social ladder face the risks of severe illnesses and premature death. On the other hand, those up the social ladder have the means to acquire quality health care and thus their life expectancy is higher than that of the poor. Again poverty has been associated with the race because of policies that favored the whites against African Americans, Hispanics, and other races. Therefore, the average African Americans, Hispanics and other people of color have poor health because their economic conditions cannot afford them quality health care. Marmot (2005) adds that the social and economic disadvantages concentrate on the same people, resulting negative effects accumulating during life. Thus, the longer the people dwell in stressful economic and social conditions, the greater the bodily distortion they agonize, and the less they are likely to enjoy their old age.
Richmond and Ross (2009) argue that social determinants of health including social exclusion, poverty, poor health systems and poor housing amongst others are some of the main social causes of diseases. They are also termed the “cause of causes”. These are social conditions, which contribute to high risk of non-communicable disease; either through unhealthy habits such as smoking or via the effects of extremely stressful lives. Increased access to resources including power, money and prestige comes as a result of increased social position (ibid). Therefore, high social status enables one to minimize consequences of diseases as he or she can easily pay for quality health care.
However, some may think that race is a question of genetics, or rather the biological make up of populations or racial groups. Smedley and Smedley (2005) argue that it is not a scientific fact that race is a concern of biology, but rather racism is a social problem. These social problems result to disparities in socioeconomic status, wealth, and political power, educational and occupational status (ibid). These factors, in turn, affect the health of people. In most cases the races that suffered historical inequities suffer from problems of low economic status, low education levels and poverty. Therefore, they are not placed well to pay for adequate health care.
California Newsreel (2003). Race: The Power of an Illusion. The House We Live In. United States: California Newsreel.
Marmot, M. (2005). Social determinants of health inequalities. Public Health, 365, 1099-1104.
Richmond, C. & Ross, N. (2009). The determinants of First Nation and Inuit health: A critical population health approach. Health & Place, 15, 403-411.
Smedley, A. & Smedley, B. (2005). Race as Biology Is Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem Is Real. American Psychologist, 60(1), 16-26.