The Plight of African Americans in Ante-Bellum New York City

By J, A. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 31, 1998 | Go to article overview
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The Plight of African Americans in Ante-Bellum New York City

J, A., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

The Plight of African Americans in Ante-Bellum New York City


As the country sits on the threshold of the Twenty-First Century and the unfolding of the millennium, the plight of Black America is a stark contrast to that of white America and some fairly new immigrant groups. As white America has strengthened its overall socioeconomic position, that of Black America has weakened; and the political and economic gains of the past thirty years are now threatened with a rollback by the extreme right.

A brief perusal of some statistics point to the fact that, if anything, the overall socioeconomic and health positions of Black America have stagnated if not worsen in comparison to its white counterpart.(2) For example, Blacks die at a 29 percent higher rate than whites from cardiovascular disease.(3) Infant deaths of Black babies are twice that of whites (18.0 for Blacks and 8.9 for whites in 1986).(4) Blacks account for a disproportionate percentage of AIDS victims. Black women who contract the HIV virus die quicker from the AIDS disease than their white or Latina counterparts.(5) With respect to health from infancy to adulthood, a jarring New York health report stated:

Every African-American child born today is two-times more likely to die in infancy than his white counterpart; if he survives, he is 200 times more likely to develop severe hypertension; faces a 34% greater risk of heart attack, his chances of having a stroke are 84% higher; and there is a 61% chance that he will not live long enough to collect social security.(6)

In a recent study on health care insurance, such as medicare, stark differentials were determined to exist in services rendered to Blacks and whites. According to the study it was found that

...even when insurance coverage and income are equal among blacks and whites, blacks obtain fewer prevented services, like mammograms or influenza immunizations, than do whites...For instance, the rates of getting mammograms for early detection of breast cancer are 34 percent lower for black women than white women when income was not considered. Yet adjusted for income, mammography rates for blacks still were 25 percent lower than for whites...(7)

In the realm of work, unemployment for Blacks is always double that of whites. It has risen alarmingly "from 9.9 percent in October 1995 to 10.8 percent in October 1996." The rates for whites and Latinos fell in that twelve months period.(8) For black youths, that percentage is tripled or quadrupleted.

Incarceration for Blacks is more than fifty percent of the nation's total! This is particularly shocking when the black population is only 12-15 percent of the country's total.(9)

In a further note on health, some writers have argued that the present, horrendous health condition of Blacks, in spite of the country's enormous wealth, is the result of a "slave health deficit" that has never been remedied. In the words of one writer:

Race and class-based structuring of the health delivery system has combined with all other factors, including physicians' attitudes conditioned by their participation in slavery, and the scientific myth of black biological and intellectual inferiority, to establish a `slave health deficit' that has never been corrected. Until persistent institutional racial discrimination in health delivery, and medical educational systems are eradicated, African Americans will continue to experience poor health outcome.(10)

To an extent this paper is in line with that "deficit" in terms of the country's inability to correct it. It is a look at some socioeconomic aspects of the plight of African Americans in nineteenth century New York City (i.e. Manhattan) prior to the American Civil War. The argument here is that this plight of Blacks in the nineteenth century laid the basis for a continuity of that plight into the present century as well as the coming one.

In assessing this plight of Black New Yorkers, the paper will assess as well that of poor, working class whites because of the similar socioeconomic conditions into which the two groups were relegated.

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