From The Grio — Remember all of the anger at town hall meetings across America during the national debate over health care reform, when some people said they wanted to take their country back? A racist even painted a swastika outside the district office of black Congressman David Scott (D-Georgia), who was inundated with racially threatening faxes, emails and phone calls. And Tea Party supporters hurled racial and anti-gay epithets at Congressional lawmakers who gathered outside the Capitol in support of health care.
An interesting study was released suggesting that white opposition to heath care may be racially motivated. The report, conducted by the Greenlining Institute, a multiethnic public policy, advocacy and leadership institute, set out to determine whether race is a factor in support for the 2010 health care reform law, and whether racial bias is involved in white opposition to the law.
Based on data from the 2008-2010 American National Election Survey, the report found that more Americans supported health care reform (44.3 percent) than opposed it (35.8 percent, with 19.8 percent holding no opinion). But the devil is in the details.
While 78.6 percent of blacks, 52.6 percent of Latinos and 43.6 percent of people of other racial backgrounds supported health care reform, only 38.4 percent of whites supported the legislation. Support among people of color could be a result of racial disparities and inequities in America’s health care system. For example, people of color are more likely to be without health insurance. Blacks and Latinos are less likely to have a regular doctor than whites. Native Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. And although black women are 10 percent less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than white women, they are 36 percent more likely to die from it.
The Greenlining Institute focused in on racial resentment, which is defined as “a political belief system that fuses whites’ belief in traditional conservative values such as the protestant work ethic (e.g., hard work equals success) with whites’ negative feelings towards blacks as a group…. Whites who share this perspective tend to believe that the reason blacks fail to get ahead in society is their failure to work hard enough, and not because of racial discrimination.”
Interestingly, the study found that whites who were high in racial resentment were against the health care law, not because they hated Obama, which they did, but because of their attitudes towards blacks. They believed African-Americans and other groups were getting something they did not earn or deserve. On the other hand, for whites who were low in racial resentment, their positive feelings about health care were related to their positive attitudes about the president.
Although this study is new, the concept of racial resentment in politics is by no means a brand new phenomenon, and certainly not in the U.S. During the Civil War, the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 were the result of racial resentment. Specifically, poor whites were resentful of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves. And they did not want to fight a war for the liberation of black people, who would potentially come up North and take their jobs. As one Pennsylvania newspaper put it, “Willing to fight for Uncle Sam,” but not “for Uncle Sambo.” Further, New York’s working-class Irish were resentful of black labor, which was used to replace striking Irish longshoremen. One newspaper gave an account of an Irish Catholic judge named John H. McCunn, who complained about spending millions of dollars to fight a war against slavery: “[H]e had seen the negro at the mouth of the Congo River, and the Slavery of the South was a paradise in comparison. The negro was a prince in the South compared to his situation at home.”