Haryana, India December 9 2020: A Sikh farmer showing an anti government poster during Farmer protest at Singhu border.

Hastings Center Report

Material Insecurity, Racial Capitalism, and Public Health

Abstract: In the influential 1995 article “Social Conditions as Fundamental Causes of Disease,” Bruce Link and Jo Phelan described social and political factors as “fundamental causes” of death and disease. Whitney Pirtle has recently declared racial capitalism another such fundamental cause. Using the case of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, she has argued that racial capitalism’s role in that situation meets each of the criteria Link and Phelan’s article outlines: racial capitalism influenced multiple disease outcomes, affected disease outcomes through multiple risk factors, involved access to flexible resources that can be used to minimize both risks and the consequences of disease, and was reproduced over time through the continual replacement of intervening mechanisms. We argue for Pirtle’s conclusion using the extensive literature on racial capitalism and case studies concerning housing in the United States and Brazil and what Naomi Klein has termed “corona capitalism” in India. If races correspond to hierarchies of material security, as suggested by Ruth Wilson Gilmore, then these hierarchies and their causal effects are fundamental determinants of public health.

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