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Q&A | Vernellia Randall

Forum to tackle racial disparities in health care

If you're black in the United States today, chances are:

You'll die younger.

You'll have more diseases.

Your babies will be smaller.

And your babies will die more often.

Author, lawyer and professor Vernellia Randall of the University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio will discuss the reasons for the racial disparity during a Saturday forum on closing the health gap between blacks and whites. She shared a few of her thoughts with the Times.

Research shows more than 90,000 blacks who die each year would not die if blacks had the same death rate as whites. How do you explain the gap?

People who work in health have a saying: The health of the mother affects the health of the child. The health of the father affects the health of the child. You start off with the premise, you start off with the idea that slaves did not step off the boat healthy. And so the basis of black health is illness in America.

So the gap cannot be explained as a problem of poverty?

In order to explain it by poverty, you would have to compare poor blacks and poor whites. … But all of the comparisons show poor blacks are more unhealthy than poor whites. If race is not an issue, then you should end up with no disparity.

Have there been improvements in black health through the years?

There have been improvements. The improvements have come in the improvement in the general health issues related to society, not because anybody has done anything in eliminating the disparity. They want to address it as a class-based issue, not as a racial disparity issue.

What is the right the solution?

There needs to be more regular action requiring certain types of zoning for selling alcohol and drugs. I think we need to look at environmental issues, either move communities or move the dumps people are living next to. You can't expect people to live in toxic environments and be healthy. I think we need to have a living wage in this society that's based on the true cost of living.

Is there anything citizens can do to make a difference?

I think the average person could start lobbying. I think this could start on the community, city level. Go to a community that is different from the one you live in. … Become an activist. We're willing to accept that people live with no grocery stores in their community? We want a society where businesses can do whatever they want? We can regulate business behavior to the benefit of a more healthier, happier society.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report.

If you go

What: Community forum, "Dying While Black:

Advocacy Strategies for Eliminating the Health

Care Gap."

Who: Vernellia Randall, author of Dying While Black: An In-Depth Look at a Crisis in the American Healthcare System,' and local health care providers.

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Where: James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center, 2335 22nd Ave. S, St. Petersburg.

Sponsors: St. Petersburg Healthy Start Federal Project, the Pinellas County Health Department, St. Pete FAB Families, Community Health Centers of Pinellas County, the Midtown Health Council and Humana.

More information: (727) 824-6963.

By the numbers

Life expectancy: 73.1 years black; 78.3 years white.

Infant mortality (per 1,000 births): 13.6 black; 5.66 white.

Low birth weight: 14 percent black; 7.3 percent white.

Diabetes rate: 13.3 percent black; 8.7 percent white.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004

Forum to tackle racial disparities in health care 05/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008 5:36pm]
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