OPINION – In the field of medical research, funding is the lifeblood of innovation. It is what keeps scientists in their labs working on new treatments and cures, and how researchers arrive at new, targeted methods of attacking ailments that have proven more devastating to at-risk populations.
This is important, because when it comes to cancer — including that of the breast, prostate and lung — Blacks have consistently been found among the highest-risk groups to die from the disease. So why, then, have African-American researchers been historically discriminated against in the high-stakes struggle to obtain funding to study this and other phenomena?
At the intersection of these medical and economic realities lies the answer to why African-American voters in California should say no on June 5 to Prop. 29, which asks the people of this state to fund cancer research by enacting a new $1 tax on every pack of cigarettes sold in the state.
While proponents of this measure have assumed an altruistic posture, the fine print of the initiative asks Black voters to validate a status quo that has been consistent on one note: locking out their interests when the time comes to decide whose research is funded, and why.
In 2011, the National Institutes of Health released a landmark, self-indicting study that conclusively demonstrated the organization’s troubling pattern of racial bias. By a wide margin — a full one-third — African-American scientists were found to be far less likely than White applicants to receive coveted NIH research funding.
It is no secret that a large proportion of the American medical research community takes its cues from the powerful NIH. With that, we are left to conclude that these patterns of structural racism are likely to exist inside many of the institutions now asking for our support to the tune of $730 million in tax dollars per year. From those who are the chief backers of Prop. 29, there have certainly been no indications to the contrary.
From either a healthcare or economic perspective, this does not make good business sense for black communities in California — where, let’s face it, a sizable share of these taxes will be collected. At a time when unemployment is the most pressing issue for African-Americans in this state, it would be counterproductive, at best, to put our political weight behind a drive to fund an industry with few, if any, real economic ties to our community.
At worst, it would be self-defeating, because African-American nicotine users are not likely to end their habit over a $1 tax. Rather, like their counterparts in other populations, they are much more apt to bear the cost at the expense of other necessities — groceries, for example — that undeniably contribute to the local tax base and bring employment into the community.
Few things strike a more direct emotional chord than cancer, but the forces behind Prop. 29 have only sought to exploit the compassion we feel for those who suffer from it. In the process, they have failed to make a convincing moral or fiscal argument to earn the Black support they need to push through this new tax — one that may indeed contain more perils than pearls for African-Americans in this state.
Vote no on Prop. 29
By Azizza Davis-Goines
Azziza Davis-Goines is the President and CEO of the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce and is a healthcare advocate determined to relieve disparities in healthcare for African Americans. She hosts a weekly radio program entitled ‘Here’s To Your Health’ on KDEE 97.5 fm, a station owned by the California Black Chamber of Commerce.”
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