Friday, March 23, 2012

Another "worst of" win for Tennessee

A black woman diagnosed with breast cancer in Memphis, Tennessee, is twice as likely to die as her white counterpart.

This is according to a study (pdf) released this week examining racial disparity in breast cancer mortality rates. Of the twenty-five largest cities in the country, Memphis topped the list with the greatest racial disparity: the ratio of black women to white women who die of breast cancer in Memphis is 2.09. The study was conducted by Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago with funding from the Avon Foundation.

The results were published on Wednesday. It's now Friday.

The Washington Post published a story about this study on Wednesday, and DC wasn't even on the list of cities surveyed. The Denver chapter of Susan G. Komen tweeted a link to a Denver Post article, which is how I found out about the study.

You know where this study didn't make news? Tennessee. Not in Memphis, not in Nashville.

And in the legislature: where was the impassioned plea for the leaders of Tennessee to do something about this appalling statistic, yet another layer of a health crisis already plaguing the state's largest city? It didn't happen.

We know what these numbers mean: black women are not getting the same access to cancer treatment that white women are. This is not a genetics problem; it's a care problem, it's an education problem, and it's a socioeconomic problem.

And it's exactly this kind of care inequality that the healthcare reform bill is supposed to alleviate.

The fact that this study has gone unreported and apparently unnoticed in Tennessee has to be a result of two things: laziness and cowardice.

The laziness accusation speaks for itself. Frankly, I expect so little from the Gannett-owned Tennessean that I'm hardly surprised.

It's the blatant cowardice of both the Tennessee press and the Tennessee political leadership that astounds me. Any discussion of this study will inevitably lead to talk of healthcare costs, poverty, and race -- issues that Democrats, including President Obama, are (or should be) dedicated to addressing. But rather than risk the appearance of supporting President Obama or his healthcare bill, Tennessee leaders are willing to ignore the plight of sick, black women in Memphis. On the second anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, Conservatives are still trying to equate affordable care with socialism, anti-Americanism, and all sorts of bad -isms. Apparently, the few liberals left in Tennessee are simply too scared to set the record straight.

As we've seen in recent months, the Tennessee legislature has taken a decidedly goofy turn. From don't say gay to shariah law to "insidious" UN proposals, Republicans have made Tennessee a running joke, and Democrats cannot and have not done much to stop them. But in this case we're talking about breast cancer. For the second time this year, I'm having to say that breast cancer is not a political issue. Trying to stay off the "worst of" lists should not be a political issue. And yet here we are.
I know one more "worst of" list that Tennessee should be on.

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