Hunger in America

Chapter 16




The hunger - and the reasons for it - which I had seen around the bank man were not unique. Countless black children are exposed to mental and intellectual destruction due to prenatal or childhood hunger. In many areas the mortality rate of black children between 1 and 12 months old is 8 to10 times higher than the white one. In comparison, the black infant mortality rate was only twice as high as the white one during chattel slavery (just as it is nationwide today).



In other words, more than 6,000 black babies are dying yearly because they do not have access to white health and nutritional care. Or even worse: more than 8,000 black babies would not die each year if they had access to the free national health care, with cash benefits, maternity aid, and weekly home visits by nurses both before and after birth, which we take for granted in a capitalist country like Denmark. New York Times revealed in 2005 that infant mortality is still higher in America than in Cuba - a poor Communist country.



But when in the 80's I looked at the official statistics to find out how many actually die from hunger, I did not find many, which at first surprised me as I had seen listless, anemic children everywhere. But malnutrition reduces the body's resistance to disease. Death from hunger will therefore on a death certificate be explained away as, for instance, pneumonia. Everywhere in the South I saw these little epitaphs hidden away in the fields.



Actual death represents only the sad visible tip of the iceberg. Millions of black children have been exposed to the danger of irreversible brain damage from prenatal and childhood hunger, which also results in indolence, apathy, alienation, and unemployability - a vicious circle that afflicts depressed people also in the Third World.



Usually it is difficult to get close to such sullen, withdrawn children, since they are unbelievably fearful of strangers. Photographing hunger is difficult since only a few of the fearful children are visibly emaciated. Most of the malnourished become overweight instead, because they have to eat a lot of carbohydrates in order to get enough protein.



Over and over again in poor shacks I ate cornbread, grits, and baked beans with a few lumps of fat. In better off homes I had more traditional soul food: ham knuckles, hog maw, chitterlings, pigs' ears, feet, and tails, and similar fat crumbs from the white man's table.



But hundreds of thousands today get even less than the 3 pounds of pork and bacon a field hand received weekly under chattel slavery. Such a diet makes people lethargic and leaves them open to all kinds of diseases, which is one reason why life expectancy for blacks is seven years shorter than for whites.



There is no excuse for hunger in a developed country. For - unlike racism - poverty and hunger are entirely the result of our vote. Senate hearings on malnutrition in the 70's stated repeatedly that "this tragedy cannot be permitted to continue."



Yet since the early 80's Americans have voted to further increase the huge gap between rich and poor and expand the silent army of hungry to more than 20 million. The problem is that most Americans are unable to see the hunger. During the years I have traveled I have found them increasingly blaming the victims for their lethargic behavior, rather than Federal lethargy.



They seem to forget that all the countries with most equality and thus no or little hunger - such as Denmark, Sweden and Japan - achieved the highest economic growth in the world during the entire 20th century.



The result has not only been sudden widespread homelessness in the U.S., but a hunger which - according to a Harvard study - has reached the worst dimensions since the depression with more than 22 million people going hungry.



Starvation also drives many to eat dirt. Many black women in Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina eat clay even in the 90's according to New York Times. This woman, listless and exhausted from anemia, led me to the slope where she usually dug for the "food" which she shared with her son.



-Do you ever eat dirt?
- Sometimes...
- Does it taste good?



- Yes. (With surprise) Have you never eaten it?
- No, but I would like to try. What do you call it?
- We call it sweet dirt...



- I thought it was called Mississippi mud. That's what they call it up North. (Many blacks in the North still have it mailed from relatives in the South).
- Do you ever eat laundry starch?



- Sometimes.
- Who else eats dirt around here?
- My mother and my aunt up in the white house. Everybody, I think.



The personal encounter with the constant whining, restlessness, and snotty noses of those children who cry incessantly because they go to bed hungry, seems almost a relief and infinitely preferable to the empty eyes and dead silence of those children whom hunger has made so apathetic that they are no longer able to cry.



Can one really imagine just how such a hunger throughout history has been stamped into the mind of black America? 



What effect does it have upon the soul of a people who must look on all the time as mothers relinquish their children to the grave?



Or see mothers die at a brutal rate: 13,600 black women yearly die in childbirth. Only 3,481 would die if they had access to white health care and fewer than 2,000 if they had Scandinavian health care.


America 1995

America 1975


50.000 American babies would not die yearly if they had access to the Free National health care of Scandinavia, revealed Ted Kennedy in Congress when trying to reform health care.