bell hooks, inequality, illness, and so forth.

Hi everybody. Along with international travel, whining about church, and gallivanting with teenagers, I've been occupying my time lately reading books by bell hooks, a black feminist sociologist and educator who I've been put on to by a couple of friends. She talks a lot about oppression, racism, poverty, patriarchy, classism, political action, art, education, and the struggle for equality, so in many ways she's the consummate liberal. Actually, wait, maybe I am the consummate liberal, because I'm a white, moving-towards-upper-middle-class patriarchal racist classist lazy male who likes to tell people that I read books by people like bell hooks. In any case, by happy, blog-producing coincidence, this morning the Seattle Times ran a short opinion piece by Jerry Large that points to a major reason that I, a well-off white male, am so intrigued by the ideas of people like bell hooks who argue and work for class equality. In essence, the research suggests that when material equality exists in a culture, and resources are distributed evenly (through whatever means), everyone benefits, not just those on the bottom.

Large's point, in short, is:

We know poverty can affect diet, living conditions, access to medical care.

But inequality puts stress on people at every level. Poor people suffer most, but so do wealthy people in societies where there are large gaps between rich and poor. High-income white Americans have higher rates of diabetes, cancer and hypertension than poor people in England, according to a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association two years ago. (Read the whole article here)

In essence, rich folks trying to "protect their money" by voting against upper-class or big business tax increases (and consequently improved social programming) are shooting themselves in the collective foot. Even if they do end up with greater material wealth, their overall health and quality of life decreases with the increase in resource and social disparity. This sense was palpable in the air for us in (more equitably organized) New Zealand, and Angel's studies in Nursing and Public Health have been pointing our thoughts in that direction for a few years. (In fact, Angel's favorite professor Steven Bezruchka was Large's source for the article.) We both see a healthcare system with equal access for all as one necessary battle in the struggle for a healthy and just society, but the point here is bigger. In fact, material and social equality--or at least relative equality--would be beneficial for all of us, and would play a significant role in improving physical, mental, and social health across our society. To put a bit of a spin on MLK's well-known quote, poverty and oppression anywhere are a sociologically measurable threat to wealth and happiness everywhere. So, bell hooks, even though I might be a part of your problems, I'm listening to you because I think your ideas will help me out in the long run.

There is a PBS Documentary series on this topic airing now called "Unnatural Causes ... Is Inequality Making Us Sick". (Info online here) Feel free to argue with me, but you should really watch the series, which should provide a lot more fuel for Large's and Bezruchka's position. I'm hoping that they post the whole series online in the near future.


Benjamin Ady said…

I'm wondering if I might be able to repost your entire post as a guest post over at

With, of course, a link to here at the top and credit and everything.

On Friday?

Let me know =) You could email me. It's

Anonymous said…
all these years, i've been indoctrinated to think that diet, exercise, and rest were key components of healthy living. thank you for opening my eyes to the fact that rich people might be sicker because they have so much more money than me. that is a serious theory with substance. since the abundance of money is poison, we all might as well get the same non-lethal dose, right? now, i feel better about my meager pay. it doesnt have the potential to kill me to soon! nor the potential for much of anything else. yay! take the cream from the top and mix it into every particle-- O'happy little homogenized society! where do i vote?
Unknown said…
Ah, Wes, of course I'm not going to tell a fat, stupid bumpkin like you where to sign up to vote. You'll just vote against your best interests anyway. Let me and my white liberal friends make your decisions for you.
Anonymous said…
No, tell me where to vote. I need to validate my life through someone elses policies, and feel good about it because....well, because "I" voted.
Anyway, it just seems laughable that anyone could ever convince the rich that they'll be better off without all that extra cash.

I can see it now:
"Mr. Richfellow, the government says you'll be healthier and have more peace of mind if you give up an amount of money disproportionate to that of which anyone else will gain."
*Rich man has heart attack/stroke.*

I dont care how much research backs any of your statements, rich and middle-class would never buy it. If you put those policies in a wine bottle, however, they'd suck down every bit of it. I have proof.
Unknown said…
maybe what we need then is a country where more people are poor than rich...