For Many White People, Opposition to Health Care is All About Race


For the life of me, I still have the hardest time figuring out why so many white people are so vehemently opposed to a law that would make it easier for them to obtain health insurance. I hear all the arguments about not wanting government to be involved in “rationing” their care, or deciding which doctors they can go to, but I think surely these people can’t be so naive as to not realize how severely most health insurance companies already restrict their coverage and make financially based decisions about what procedures and care will be covered. This has been going on with HMOs for decades. Don’t Americans know this, I ask myself?

And it’s especially confusing down here in the South, where opposition to universal healthcare is the strongest—and where the states have by far the most people without any health insurance. Even on my daughter’s soccer team, I have seen the contradictions, when a white parent’s child gets hurt on the field and I observe the terror in her eyes when she wonders what she’s going to do because they don’t have health insurance. Yet the polls would have you believe that all these white folks will fight the idea of somebody giving them affordable health insurance until their dying day.

But a fascinating piece by Judy Lubin on the Huffington Post provided me with some much-needed answers as the nation assesses the fallout from the Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote to uphold President Obama’s healthcare law, so-called Obamacare.

In her piece, Lubin describes several studies that have been done by researchers at Brown University and at Vanderbilt, who devised experiments to see how much racial attitudes spill over into feelings about public policy proposals that have no explicit connection to race. Michael Tesler, a political science professor at Brown, found that anti-black stereotypes were a strong predictor of how people felt about healthcare reform, and when subjects were told that proposals were initiated by President Clinton instead of Obama, their opposition to the proposals decreased.

Vanderbilt researchers Monique Lyle and Syndey Jones reported similar findings that Obama’s racial identity colored the feelings of many white people about the healthcare law.

So this means that as with so many other things, racism is such a powerful, all-consuming poison that it will push people into making decisions and taking actions that are totally counter to their best interests. This has been the story of the American South for centuries, so I guess healthcare reform should be no different. For too many Americans without health insurance, they would rather deal with the momentary terror of wondering how they will treat their child’s injury than grant President Obama the benefit of handing them affordable health insurance.



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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Sigh. 🙁 Poison is a good choice of words. I worked in the healthcare insurance industry until October 2008. I was the only black employee at my company. For other reasons I was miserable but I prayed to be out of there before the election and before I said or did something that would warrant being fired. I was able to leave on my own accord. One of the most ignorant things I heard was my co-workers talking about Osama news. She said, “Obama”. Another employee corrected her and she said, “Same difference.” This was from someone I didn’t expect to see that from and it didn’t matter to her that I was standing there. I was so through. I know that is a bit off your topic but this post made my thoughts “go there”.

    • I have heard this as well. People calling Obama the anti-Christ, Osama, etc. No matter what your politics are, I think it’s important that we respect our country’s leader. We don’t have to agree, but to be outright nasty won’t accomplish anything but more resistance and tension between political parties and people.

  2. Interesting perspective. I hadn’t thought about it that way. This will spill over into all areas though, right? If you don’t like the president, you are going to oppose anything he proposes. We can’t assume that white people opposed to universal healthcare are all a bunch of racists, though. Some people oppose Obama due to politics, not race. Personally, I don’t know who to vote for this November. I’ll have to do more reserach before I decide. Though I will tell you, in all honesty, I am more likely to vote for a minority person than a white person, because as the mother of two black girls, I am finally seeing and experiecing racism for the first time in my life, and I want our nation’s leader to care about minorities, which is hard to do when you aren’t one or haven’t had strong ties to minority people. 🙂 Thanks for your view.

  3. Thanks Nick for your article. My friend shared on facebook yesterday that some of the tea party people said that they were going to move to Canada if the Obama Healthcare bill was deemed constitutional. I thought, that’s a crazy idea. Canada’s healthcare system is ran by their government so what would they run there for. It makes no sense to me. And this is why Obama can’t even talk about race or poverty because the whites get so up in arms about anything he says. His speeches remains neutral for the above reasons. However, they can talk about loosing their America! Well I am an American and I live here to. I also understand that poor blacks are not of value to the capitalistic system and will drown in the economic sea of despair. We who are free are still oppressed. I have been married to a white man for 26 years, looks like our marriage is facing some challenging times.

  4. great piece, nick. i just had this conversation with my son yesterday, when he asked what all the fuss was about healthcare (and why i was glued to the set with a delirious smile on my face). i told him that some opposed healthcare simply because they opposed obama, and that there was an undercurrent of racism. he disputed this, saying (gasp) “i hate when people bring up the race card for everything.” O.M.G. i had to compose myself and try to discuss this in a reasonable manner … but now i can point to your piece and the huffpo article to back me up. we talk about race and class in our household more than average, i think, and i’m afraid my son has gotten the wrong message. sigh. just got to keep on trying to educate him before he goes out into the world on his own.

  5. Mind boggling in one sense but soooo obvious in another ain’t it? *rolls eyes*

  6. I wish I could say this wasn’t true, but it is. I’m white raising a bi-racial child and I’ve never in my 44 yr old life heard so much ignorance and bigotry as I have since the overwhelming majority of America elected Barack Obama. I voted for him and I support the ACA.

    Personally I don’t think politics are really about black and white, I think politics in this day and age are about green. Lobbyists just buy whatever politicians we send to Washington, be they Democrat or Republican.

    I’m a cancer survivor and have no health insurance. If I had the best health insurance around and made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year I’d still support the ACA because I was taught to care about other people besides myself.

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