A long but important journey
This year for Black History Month, it’s important to reflect on “Black Health and Wellness”, let’s take a look at how American healthcare has often underserved the African-American community.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has recently shown, a widespread disparity of access to quality healthcare negatively impacted outcomes for blacks and other minorities.
For African-Americans, the root of the problem goes deep, and back centuries. Beginning with slavery and, later, a lack of economic opportunity, often put medical care out of reach for many African-Americans.
Even in good economic times, during the Jim Crow era “Whites Only” hospitals were commonplace throughout the South. Black medical facilities were often understaffed, underfunded, or non-existent. This stark reality gave credence to the saying: “When white folks catch a cold, black folks get pneumonia.”
Black folk remedies helped pick up the slack. A combination of African and local lore, folk remedies sometimes called for rituals and incantations, yet also involved many plant-based curatives. These included garlic for high blood pressure, or aloe vera for skin injuries — nature’s answer to maintaining wellness that has since been validated by modern medicine.
Finally, it was only when the government threatened to withhold Medicare payments to ‘Whites Only” medical institutions that hospitals became desegregated almost overnight in 1964. This was thanks to the the passage of the Civil Rights Act that gave blacks a better shot at institutional health care.
And by 2010, following years of negotiations with the health insurance industry, the Affordable Care Act was finally passed by the Obama administration, giving more access to medical care for Americans of every color.
Today, affordable medical care is still a larger concern for most Americans. However, African-Americans, other minorities, and especially the poor continue to remain the most vulnerable.
Black History Month rewind
Black History Month returned to its roots with a new focus on black family ties in 2021.
Through the theme “Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity”, explored the wide-ranging diversity of black family life — from single to two-parent households to nuclear, extended and, more recently, bi-racial.
Throughout black history, factors such as slavery, inequality and poverty have put pressure on maintaining family ties, especially during hard times when a better life meant traveling far from home.
This may certainly be the reason why family reunions have always remained popular with African-Americans. Today, that means annual get-togethers with far-flung family members reunited every year to joyfully exchange stories, memories and photos of the grandkids.
Paradoxically, economic pressures that pull black communities apart can also unite them. Friends and neighbors may pool resources, or find job opportunities for one another, or simply seek emotional comfort within their own micro-community. In that respect, they all may come to qualify for the title of “brother” or “auntie”.
Throughout American history, the black community has always exhibited an unwavering understanding of the value of family as an incomparable source of comfort, strength, and even survival.
Black History Month first originated as part of an initiative by writer and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who launched Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson proclaimed that Negro History Week should always occur in the second week of February — between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
Since 1976, every American president has proclaimed February as Black History Month. Today, other countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom also devote an entire month to celebrating black history.
Authored by: Enie Hatford