I like to read.  I read a lot of books.  I have a pile of books around me at all times.  Of all my reading in the past few years, one book stands out for me as the most gripping and impactful of everything that I have read for many years.  That book is Professor Sandra Lane’s “Why Are Our Babies Dying?”  Professor Lane is a medical anthropologist, nurse, and professor at Syracuse University.  In addition to her nursing work in prenatal and neonatal care, she has conducted research in underserved areas such as Cairo, Egypt and the inner-city of Syracuse, New York.

In “Why Are Our Babies Dying?,” Professor Lane sensitively, yet scholarly, explains how deteriorating neighborhoods, high incarceration rates, high unemployment, and poor health care are underlying causes of poor prenatal health for mothers and babies.  The conceptual framework for her work is “structural violence,” which is simply defined as preventable harm or damage…” where there is no actor committing the violence or it is not meaningful to search for the actor(s); such violence emerges from the unequal distribution of power and resources or, in other words, is said to be built into the structures.” (page 4)  Structural violence includes “institutional racism,” “relative deprivation in food or health care,” “disease-ridden environments,” and “stigmatizing social norms.”

While conservatives in the Republican and Democratic parties propagandize about the health impact of an “aging society,” they totally ignore the reality of an infant mortality rate that puts the United States at the very bottom of advanced industrialized nations in terms of child health and well-being.  In Professor Lane’s words:

“African-American and Latino babies die two and one half times as often as white babies in Syracuse.  Infant mortality is too often addressed as if it were an isolated problem, rather than part of a repeating pattern of higher mortality throughout the life span, inadequate education, disproportionate incarceration, substandard housing, and unemployment.” (Page 3)

Syracuse could be any large city USA.  Minority neighborhoods in inner-cities have become waste lands of despair with abandoned housing, extremely high unemployment, unavailability of medical care and healthy food, and general lack of opportunity for a decent quality of life.  These conditions are largely due to racist government policy in the form of FHA redlining, urban renewal (otherwise known by African-Americans as Negro removal), and maldistribution of tax-funded resources.

The Federal government along with state governments have sanctioned, even required, the ghettoization and continued racist policies leading to conditions in U.S. inner-city neighborhoods.  If the U.S. Congress were only slightly as concerned about the needs of people on these “mean streets” as they seem to be about the survival of masters of the universe on Wall Street, preventative health would improve.  Not only would making things right with victims of racism be decent and humane – making our creed and deed match – it would reduce health care costs.