Sunday, May 10, 2009

dump their mothers into nursing homes

In the addictive HBO program "The Sopranos," Tony Soprano obviously identified strongly with his Italian heritage. However, one reason I liked the show was because it also depicted him and his family acting in common white ways. In many respects, the Sopranos clearly considered ethnicity more of an option than a necessity.

In the following scenes, for instance, Tony goes through a struggle that's more common for white Americans than for many non-white ones--he tries to convince his mother to move into a nursing home.

If you thought about you mother today, on "Mother's Day," did you also think about a nursing home?

Chances are that if you're a white American, you're more likely to have had such thoughts than the sons and daughters of other racial groups.

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2000 (and I doubt things have changed much since then), the majority of nursing home residents are women, and the nursing home population is "almost entirely white."

An especially vivid childhood memory for me took place in my nuclear family's living room. Grandma, my father's mother, was perched on the edge of the couch, smoking a cigarette. She was visiting us for a few days, spending some time away from her own, much smaller house, which was about a hundred miles away.

She'd moved into that house by herself after Grandpa died. As she talked to my parents that day, I came to understand that she wasn't getting on all that well by herself anymore. She felt lonely, and she needed help around the house sometimes.

My father had five siblings, all of whom were married with children, and I also came to understand that she'd been paying similar visits to each of them. These visits weren't going well.

"Six goddamn kids," she said at one point. She stabbed her cigarette into an ashtray and said it again. "I have six goddamn kids! And not one of them will take me in. Not one of them."

I don't remember what my parents said. I do remember that my grandmother ended up in her own apartment back in her hometown, in a building that was somehow reserved for old people. Despite her fondness for Marlboro Reds, she lived into her 80s, when she apparently died in her sleep. I imagine that if she had lived much longer, a nursing home would've been her next and final residence.

Now that I'm an adult, I know that my grandmother's grown children had a variety of reasons for not taking her in, and that some of those reasons were more than valid. But I also suspect that her children, who were fully in step with the broader, twentieth-century idolatry of the all-American "nuclear family," were enacting an especially white American tendency in their refusal of her request.

I'm having trouble finding research that explains why white Americans are more likely than others to live separately from their older parents, and to put them in nursing homes. At this point, I can only speculate. If you have any more solid explanations, please chime in.

Perhaps the children of non-white mothers resort to nursing homes less often because they know that their mothers are likely to receive worse care in them than white mothers do. Various studies show, for instance, that black and Hispanic residents are hospitalized more often than white residents, with bed sores, dehydration, poor nutrition, and other results of inattentive care.

But I think cultural and economic factors are more likely explanations for why more older white people end up in nursing homes.

Throughout most of American history, white and non-white families alike commonly lived as "extended" families, with several generations under one roof.

When the economy exploded after World War II, more people--especially white people--could afford to live in households that contained fewer people. A breadwinning father and a housekeeping mother who did almost of the childrearing became the pursued ideal, especially in the expanding, influential media of television and advertising. Grandparents were increasingly excluded from that idealized family portrait.

In addition to increased economic opportunities that benefited white people more than others, a cultural factor that I think partially accounts for the white movement away from extended family life is hyper-individualism. The post-war era's movement into Cold War competition with the Soviet Union included a heightened emphasis on that which distinguished America from its supposed national opposite.

Since Russia was figured as a totalitarian communist collective that de-emphasized the individual, America declared itself, more strongly than ever, a bastion of individual rights and freedom. As a consequence, Randian exclamations of "the virtue of selfishness" and the evils of altruistic collectivism rang especially true for many middle-class white people, who were already more inclined by their increasingly unacknowledged whiteness to see themselves in individualistic terms.

I suspect that along with these trends, older white Americans felt less willing to "lose their independence" by moving in with their children. They also may have had more "respect" than the elderly of previous generations for the individualized, seemingly autonomous lives of their children. Today, many older white people still seem more inclined to think of living with their children as "imposing a burden on them."

So, since I try to remain aware on a daily basis of my white racial training, those were some of my Mother's Day thoughts. In the future, I hope to better understand this common white tendency, that of dumping parents into nursing homes.

Is that word too severe? "Dumping?" I hope so.

But, in many cases, I suspect not.

What were your Mother's Day thoughts? Did you think about a nursing home?


  1. One issue you don't mention is the need for some older people to have full time care. It's tough for non-medical professionals to provide this from the home, and to be around 24-7 in case of emergencies especially with the increase in both-parent-working families. In addition to the difficulty of providing stimulation and peer group comfort and companionship.

  2. I am surprised you didn't mention the obvious contributor to the bias, namely there are more white people then other eccentricities and they tend to live longer in the us then other eccentricities (at least in the us) hence at least part of the bias in nursing home makeup. Still, I don't think that this goes on to explain all the discrepancy.
    Another factor is that it may not even be a choice for many nonwhites (or even most whites for that matter) as average annual nursing home costs over 70k a year (source Basically, in order for nursing home to be an option it seems like one must be firmly ensconced in the upper middle to upper class and/or for the elderly to have tremendous retirement savings. So, before even going into cultural difference I think demographic trends and sheer costs associated with nursing care exclude a ton of people.
    As per the cultural aspects, I think your argument about the insistence on the nuclear family as more prevalent amongst whites hits the nail squarely on the head. But at the same time, I simply don't think that any culture has had enough time to adapt to the fact that there are so many elderly, and so few (comparatively speaking) young people/workers. I think if you want to know where the world is heading re: the elderly, I would look to trends in Japan.

  3. My grandmother moved to a nursing home at 87 after living her adult life in my great-grandmother's home. My father lived at home until he was 32 to take care of her (she was a widow with no income) and now he and my mother live in my late great uncle's house next door to the great-grandmother's house, which is next door to my cousin's house, which is across the street from my great aunt's house. My extended family has lived on this country road for several generations.

    We were all devastated when we realized that gramma could not take care of herself, and that we could not take care of her even when she lived next door. When I share this with my friends who aren't from rural areas, they wonder why it's so devastating and console me with "well, that happens to everyone." (because, of course, "everyone" is middle-upper class white and not poor and/or a person of color, etc) They also, ALWAYS, express major shock that my family lives on the same road without wanting to hurt each other. They don't understand why when I moved halfway across the country instead of to the next street over, it was devastating to most of my family.

    I think that the hyper-individualism you mention is a big reason why we "dump" folks in nursing homes, though certainly my grandmother needs constant care and other folks do too. This is the sense I got when folks told me it was no big deal, everyone goes to a nursing home. In the rural culture I grew up in, this was not the case, at all.

    To speak to the economic privilege that allows folks to make this choice, my grandmother is and has always been poor. She is in one of the worst nursing homes in the state and can only afford that because of her social security check, which almost covers the cost of living there. And at least 90% of the very poorly paid aids and nurses are African American. So while my grandmother's lack of economic privilege puts her in crappy nursing home, the combination of economic and racial marginalization allows black folks to work there, but never afford to receive care there.

    I say all that to say: it's not all white folks that adopt this hyper-individuality. There are some class and cultural elements to attend to. And, the nursing home becomes yet another institution in which folks of color can work but not afford to utilize.

    You also might want to consider the data on life expectancy. Black folks simply don't live as long as white folks because of the racism that functions as the operating logic of all our institutions. So there may be some cultural elements to the disparity, but its also a matter of who gets to live long enough to get to the typical nursing home age range...

  4. as a black woman with a white mother, i would wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of the previous commenters, concerning differences in life-span and economics that may create the phenomenon you talked about.

    and for once, i must take issue with a post of yours--specifically your use of the word "dumping". in many cases (perhaps not all), it really is TOO harsh a word to use.

    when i was two, my mother took in her mother and aunt when their neighborhood started to succumb to crime, and the two ladies lived with my mother, father, and i almost until they they died--approximately fourteen years.

    both my grandmother and great-aunt eventually became too difficult to care for at home, because they needed round-the-clock care because of serious physical (grandmother) and mental (great-aunt) debilitation.

    when my mother looked to her 3 siblings for help, none was offered--in fact it was soundly refused.

    so in each case, my mother could choose quitting her job and giving 24/7 care (an option that was unthinkable financially), pay for home health aids (too expensive), or find the best facility that our family could afford and hope that the professionals could do a better job giving these women care than we could ourselves.

    one of my mother's brothers still doesn't speak to her (almost 20 years later) because of the choice she made--even though he was unwilling to assist. but i digress.

    i said all this because i am part of a white family and a black family. i have seen many incarnations of what happens when parents get old, and there are MANY reasons why adult children must make the difficult decision to place their elderly parents into a Nursing Home.

    is there something more noble about a family that suffers the strain of caring for a relative that they are really not equipped to, when that person really needs round-the-clock care from professionals? i just can't see that there is.

    and i also think it would be a mistake to just link the phenomenon to culture.

    as an addendum to my story, my mother recently told me that she purchased a special insurance that would pay for nursing care or assisted living in the event that she should ever need it. she doesn't want me to ever feel as terribly guilt-ridden and financially strapped as she did when she had to put her own mother in a nursing home.

    so there's that.

  5. Deb makes alot of points I agree with... in addition to class, I would add geographic regionalism and mobililty that has accured over the past 30 years.
    I grew up in the south (texas) and the idea of putting a family member in a nursing home was perceived as an uncaring and selfish act that only rich people did. I think there are elements of that mindset that still exist in the south among white folks, epecially working class white folks.
    In addition, more folks lived their lives in the same geographic area, there were more family members that lived close to each other that shared the work of taking care of elder members. But now with more people moving around for work, that is having some impact on families' ability to care for aging family members. With this change, along with people living longer, baby boomers aging, etc, I think you will begin to see more people in nursing homes of all races.
    Personally, I hope I will always be able to take care of myself and when the time comes to get off the planet, it will be a short and sweet transition.

  6. Great post, and I'm sorry to hear that your grandmother got treated like that. But yes, I've seen it happen in my family, and I have wondered what our whiteness might have to do with that. My grandfather basically got "dumped" like that, when several families could have easily taken him instead, and cared for him for awhile at least. He might've been cranky, but I think grandkids missed out on having him in their lives and he wouldn't've been a "burden."

    As for economic class, yeah that's a factor, but it can't be separated from race. Like Macon points out in the post, people who got post-ww II bennies were mostly white, so they rose up the social ladder more readily in larger proportions. That makes it a "white" thing to a degree, tho of course not ONLY a white thing, which I didn't take the post to be saying.

    "Dumping" too harsh a word? In most cases probably but not in a lot of others. America doesn't care about old people, they're an embarrassment and a bother as much as anything. Best to shut them up in storage, the thinking often seems to be in this individualized culture. And I can very much see how white people get more individualized and so want their "freedom," see that all. the. time.

  7. This post really bothered me. For a lot of reasons.

    -As previous comments have pointed out, the demographics of nursing homes are shaped by far more factors then "white people don't want to take care of their aging parents".
    -You were looking at numbers about the demographics of nursing homes, and saying that because 80% of nursing home patients are white, 80% of elderly white people will go to nursing homes.
    -The focus on the roll of hyper-individualism in making white people slough off their responsibilities to their parents you ignore the roll that institutional racism has in lowering the life expectancy for minorities, especially black people.
    -There is a huge economic divide when it comes to care for the elderly, and choices regarding nursing home care are influenced by a variety of factors.

    To give an example involving my step-mom and her family, who coincidentally are also Italian. Her mom is 88, and has lived in the same small New England town most of her life. The church she has attended for her entire adult life is there, her surviving siblings are in the area, as are her surviving long-standing friends, nieces, nephews and her "community".

    However, for reasons both personal and professional her children have scattered to different corners of the country, the northwest, the southwest, and Florida. All have careers, kids, spouses and the careers of spouses to consider. None can afford to move back to their hometown (where job opportunities have dried up and cost of living is high for the region). Even travelling to visit her regularly is a huge burden for all involved.

    Because she is showing early signs of Alzheimer's they want to move her from her apartment, near her sister, to a place where she can get medical care, and where someone can intervene in an emergency. Relatives in the area are either too old, too unhealthy, too poor or have too small of a place to take her in. My step-mom would like to move back, but its not possible. And the siblings have decided that removing her from her community, and particularly her church would be more harmful then finding a good nursing home.

    I hear stuff like this from my parents colleagues, from family friends, from people I work with, or go to school with all the time. There is a large and growing number of adults who cannot feasibly find ways to take in their parents, or to move closer to them for economic reasons. And placing a value judgement on those individuals, by suggesting that they do not care enough, that they are "dumping" their relatives, that there is something about their culture that leads to not loving or caring about their parents is just mean spirited.

    Also, I don't really get how a post about how your grandma's kids not taking her in, plus that sopranos clip, translate into "white people don't love their parents enough to care for them in old age", and even if it does, how exactly that fits with the mission of the blog.

    Switching gears:

    "In many respects, the Sopranos clearly considered ethnicity more of an option than a necessity."

    Why is ethnicity a necessity? Especially when it is centered around a country you do not have a direct connection with?

    Isn't being obsessed with ethnicity/nationality among different white people a tool often used to delegitimize claims of bias?

    Do we actually lose something when not raised in a culture based on the one that our ancestors lived in however many generations ago? Should ethnically based identity take precedence over other factors in determining what cultures we identify with?

    This is something I've been pondering since reading the article about Nicole Sprinkle and her 1/2 Colombian daughter at Racialiscious (and the comments).

  8. Thank you for the comments so far. You've all raised more points already than I can reasonably address, but I'll try.

    Octagalore, thanks for mentioning the need that many people have for full-time care; I didn't mention that because actually, it seems obvious to me. The post is more about those who don't necessarily need it, but still get pressured into nursing homes and "retirement villages" and other separate living arrangements.

    J.M., I think you're right about the higher numbers of whites than of other "eccentricities," and about their longer life spans. I didn't cover every additional contributing factor to this issue because I think there's only so much detail I can put into a post before it gets too long and/or tedious and people give up on finishing it. But you're right, there are many causal factors here.

    I'd love to hear about trends regarding the elderly in Japan, if you're willing to speak to them.

    Deb, I'm glad you brought up the rural versus urban distinction--it makes sense that hyper-individualism in this respect would be more prevalent in the latter settings. And yes, I'm sure it's not all white folks that adopt a hyper-individualized mentality, but I still suspect that whiteness, especially middle-class whiteness, is one factor that can contribute to it.

    MisCegenation, I know that most families struggle mightily to weigh carefully the options in these cases, and I also acknowledge that "dumping" is too harsh a word for many families' treatment of their elderly; as I said at the end of the post, though, I suspect the word does fit many others. As Linda wrote, America is an individualized and youth-oriented society, and so, the elderly are often shoved out of the picture. I actually think America's treatment of its elderly is something of a national disgrace, and that white folks may well be more guilty of it, generally, than other groups. But, my post is largely speculative, and I'll also admit that after seeing the treatment that I described of my grandmother, I may have a sort of chip on my shoulder that affects my view of this issue.

    Also, you wrote, "is there something more noble about a family that suffers the strain of caring for a relative that they are really not equipped to, when that person really needs round-the-clock care from professionals? i just can't see that there is."

    I can't see that there is either. As I wrote at the beginning of this comment, the post is more about those who are pressured into separate living arrangements when they don't really need them yet.

    Thanks for the additional point about geographic mobility, Jody--I agree.

    Jules, you raised so many different points that I'll have to address them later. I hope to get to them soon, though, so for now, thanks for your careful attention to this post.

  9. Macon D,

    The less fancy name for "hyper-individualism" is modern liberalism. It should shock no one that in an ever increasingly liberal society that the ability to break commitments and shun responsibility becomes the way one lives liberally in a hyper-individual state.

    Yet, how much sympathy should we reserve for these liberal white grannys who are getting exactly what they asked for? So much so that their caretakers are largely foreigners with a undeniable detachment to their "guests."

    I think though that one needs to look deeper into this phenomenon as it seems the precursor for the inevitable liberal drive to legitimate euthanasia across the nation. Now, within a perfect cauldron, boils what is in many ways the self-fulfilling desire for civilizational suicide. We have a mass of radical liberal children ready to pull the plug on an unprecendented number of liberal parents and neither one with a good argument against it.

  10. i'm a bit confused. i think it's the title of your post that does it. when i think "nursing home", it means a full care facility for older people who can't live on their own anymore.

    the clip that you included from the Sopranos shows that Tony and his mother disagree on whether he wants her to go to a "retirement community" or a "nursing home". if i remember the rest of the season correctly, the place he picked out for her was pretty posh, indeed, and a far cry from a full-on nursing care facility that she was worried about.

    of course, i wouldn't try to judge the situation you remember with your own grandmother. but it seems like by using the term "nursing home", you are overlapping the two situations. someone might send their older loved one to live in a nursing home if they were mentally or physically ill, but you seem more concerned with those older adults who are "discarded" by their families even if they can live unassisted.

    i question whether the portrayal of Tony Soprano's mom is the best for your argument. because if i had the choice of keeping relative harmony in my house, and allowing my emotionally abusive, deeply manipulative mother live with me; if i could afford it, i'd probably buy her an apartment in a "retirement community" too.

    do we all have the responsibility to ask our parents to stay with us in later years, even if they are financially/physically/mentally capable of living on their own?

    or are you saying that it is a luxury--or more culturally accepted--if white folks don't want their older parents encroaching on their adult living space for whatever reason?

  11. Yes, I can see the overlap you're pointing out, thanks for putting it that way--I can see how the post title could be confusing. Maybe it should be "refuse to live with their parents." Right, Nursing Home and Retirement Community are not synonymous. But then, while your definition of the former is technically correct, I do think people end up in nursing homes when they could easily be living with family members instead, and when they would prefer to live with family members instead. It's the general trend toward nuclear families that I'm questioning in this post, as well as what I see as the heightened striving for that trend among late twentieth century, middle-class white Americans. And yes, as you wrote, I am also "concerned with those older adults who are 'discarded' by their families even if they can live unassisted."

    No, I don't think we do we all have, as you wrote, the responsibility to ask our parents to stay with us in later years, even if they are financially/physically/mentally capable of living on their own. And yes, I am in part saying, as you also wrote, that it is a luxury, and a more culturally accepted one, if middle-class-and-higher white folks don't want their older parents encroaching on their adult living space. Finally, as I've said, it might also be a result of whitened hyper-individualism that many older white folks prefer to live on their own and give their children their space as well.

    As for Tony and his ma, I agree that she was an awful manipulator, and I wouldn't want to live with her either! But another great thing about that show was the contradictory elements of so many of its situations, and characters. That is, I think there's a similar effort to manipulate her on Tony's part--I think that in those episodes, she knows she's being put out to pasture. But, yeah, she's the master manipulator, and he probably learned it largely from her (his sister Janice seems to have as well), and from their mobster dad of course.

  12. REALLY Thordaddy? you're going to try and fold issues of euthanasia into this discussion?? come ON.

    i definitely agree, Macon, that plenty of older adults end up places they don't want to be--whether it's a "retirement community" or a "nursing home"--when they'd rather be spending their last years living with family. just thinking about my visits to nursing homes as a child makes me cringe, as the halls of those places are just filled with sadness (to me, anyway).

    it's a very interesting question that you pose. is it more culturally acceptable for white families to trend more toward nuclear set-ups? how would you go about finding out if families of color would rather have grandma living at home for the rest of her days, or if it's more a function of history and economics setting up the situation, and now it's just what you DO? have there been any studies that have shown trends of black families' living situations as the black middle class began to establish itself 20 or 30 years ago?

    can we separate those pieces out, or is that what makes something "culture"?

  13. I'm glad you're opening a discussion on this topic. I'm non-white and have always been curious about this...

  14. Since I was 19 I have told my parents "be nice to your grandchildren so they will take care of you when your old". I invited both of their parents to live with me as they aged but they refused and luckily died in their sleep in their own homes. The risk they posed to themself was still less than the risk of a nursing home.
    My parents are white and were horribly abusive I can't imagine being able to care for them well and still protect myself.
    As a nurse and former assistance in a nursing home I would be loath to place my parents in one but understand that I will when need be.

  15. MissCegenation,

    I don't need to "fold" together issues of euthanasia and "dumping" one's parents into the care of others. The issues are inseparable.

    In fact, we have an unprecedented number of baby-boomers ready to fall ill and disabled with a crippled and declining economy that apparently relies on Third-World labor for its growth.

    Add that with the inevitable liberal push for euthanasia given the first point above and the nursing home operation just looks like a precursor.

  16. IMO, a lot of this is a ‘matter of the human heart’- regardless of race. For some, it could also be a moral issue when it comes to deciding how their aging parent(s) is cared for. I am ‘guessing’ that some are able to put their parent in a nursing or elderly home well before it is necessary, without a second thought-- while others will agonize over the right thing to do, and end up keeping their parents with them right up to the 'end', or as long as possible.

    Certainly money is a consideration. But I really think it comes down to whether there is a heart-to-heart connection between child and parent. After all, we ARE talking about lives that have made imprints on our hearts(one way or the other).

  17. Being a black woman with a mother in a nursing home while I work out of state, I have to admit this post rubbed me the wrong way. I appreciate that we even have the choice of long-term care, as one of your commenters said, since I'm the only one in my family who can look after her affairs. And unfortunately, my profession only has opportunities outside of her location. And I can't afford to pay any more for higher education right now.

    I started caring for mother and my Dad, who had Alzheimer's, about a year after college, spending six years doing it. A stroke survivor, Mom stayed at home with me, while he had to enter long-term care. We were blessed, but the reality is, health-care options for people of color in some areas are so piss poor that many have no choice but to keep their sick family members at home. And, because this caregiving phenomenon usually hits women in their prime working years the hardest, a cycle usually continues later such that some women of lesser means often don't have enough to support themselves in old age. And, as we all know, black women aren't marrying in droves, so expecting joint income there is a long shot.

    We weren't rich. My folks planned the best they could, and I was determined to find the right environment after trudging through so many terrible places set aside for the elderly in our lower middle class, older black urban enclave. And we struggled through the choices, as I'm sure many white families have. It took forever to calibrate the right levels of care and communication with everyone involved. Yeah, I caught hell from far-away family and some of their friends who lectured that "xx folks don't put their families in homes like white folks," but I've come to realize that's a steaming crock of crap.

    When people have the means, many choose to it because they often think better care could be provided. Back in the day, some mutual-benefit societies even supported long-term care facility construction though they couldn't serve everyone, to meet a need and serve people locked out because of race-based restrictions and maltreatment.

    So, while I understand your point about the perils of unchecked individualism and the selfish excision of older people from our concept of "family," I'd also venture to say that a real discussion is needed about what it means to have options.

    I also got impression from this post that because people of color aren't "choosing" long-term care, that we're somehow more "noble" for it. Please, let's not fall into that essentialist trap. If there was more trust in the system, less contempt from health-care providers (which has been documented), more resources and redundant support systems in underserved communities, I bet more people of color in the U.S. (who have less multigenerational wealth) would choose long-term care, and hospice as well, for their sick relatives instead of running themselves in the ground, compromising their health and future old-age support. This has nothing to do with "The Fountainhead" for many people, and while I thoroughly enjoy your work, I hope you revisit some of your assumptions.

  18. No? How about "Atlas Shrugged"?

    Okay, I shouldn't kid about such a serious topic.

    Thank you for the thoughtful, complicating comment, Sojourner. As I said in the post, my thoughts are rather speculative at this point, and as I said in this comment thread, I also recognize that they may be clouded by lingering emotional interference regarding the treatment of my grandmother.

    You're right of course that I should have better acknowledged that PoC use nursing homes as well when they can afford, and usually not to "dump" off their elders. And that they're also not necessarily "noble" when they don't do so, and that whites aren't necessarily bad adult-children when they do do so. Yes, my post certainly does set up a good, non-white adult-children versus bad, white children binary that's far too rigid, and that maybe shouldn't even be there. And no, nursing homes are not evil places--they're often, perhaps usually, a good option, and one that more people should have. Thank you for highlighting such necessary complexities.

    Still, while it's true that, as you wrote,"this has nothing to do with 'The Fountainhead' [and what it represents] for many people," I think it does for some. To the extent that one can discern and delineate a middle-class white American culture (however mixed in with, part of, or a stand-in for American culture in general), I do think it includes a heightened sense of entitlement to separate living spaces, and a heightened, though sometimes isolating, expectation of independence. Which, again, if I'm right, can lead to excessive pressure on the elderly to enter nursing homes and other such facilities. Which, again, is not to say that other groups don't sometimes do the same with their elderly, for good and bad reasons, especially when they can afford it. Maybe race privilege and class privilege are two factors to work with here more concurrently.

    So I'll revisit my assumptions, and I appreciate the reminder. For one thing, regarding my assumptions about whitened individualism and its probable effects and outcomes, I'll do my best to keep in mind, and to better acknowledge, that the same outcomes can come about for non-white people, for different (and sometimes the same--e.g., $$$) reasons.

  19. Ok, Macon D, "Atlas Shrugged." You win! Clearly, I was mixed up on my Ayn Rand bibliography. Thank you for your measured, thoughtful responses to many of the comments raised here, including mine. I hope to see a book from you sometime.

  20. Blacks currently make up 12.8% of the US population. Do you think that maybe in 1920 (approximately when these nursing home residents were born) the number was closer to 8.3%?

    And for the 'other' category being so low, think back to 1920 when the biggest non-white immigrant group was Asians (actually in the 20's the biggest non-white immigrant group was probably the Italians, but now they're white) and most of them didn't live a middle class live that would let them live to nursing home age.

    Add in to this the fact that blacks tend to live shorter lives than whites (I'll bet you'll blame that on racism too instead of contributing factors like poverty, poor diet, and genetic anomalies that give predisposition to certain illnesses) and it's really not surprising that a minority population group makes up a minority of nursing home residents.

  21. Elizabeth,

    As you may already know, racism is tied in with poverty, dieting, and health care access when it comes to people of color. So, yeah, you can honestly blame racism for a lot of health issues. So, the life expectancy is quite low. It's not as easy to live a stressful life.

    I've read your posts on this site. They come off as very defensive. Why come on the site, if you would rather not acknowledge some of the topics?

  22. I'm white. My mother is abusive and mentally ill. I've spent thousands of dollars in therapy trying to get over what she did to me.

    Like hell I'm taking her in.

  23. Well I can only speak for myself. I am a 2nd generation Ugandan American (meaning I was born here but both of my parents were born and raised in Uganda). In my culture, it would be completely unacceptable to send your mother or father away to a nursing home and everyone would see that as somewhat crazy. I know that no matter how nice the people in the nursing homes are, they cannot love and care for my mother the way I could or any of my other family members. Also she's my mother... she raised me and made sacrifices for me and what kind of child would not be willing to make sacrifices to the man/woman who raised them?

  24. You make it sound so hateful and vicious. I think if more white people put there older parents in a facility it's probably because they have had better opportunity such as better education leading to better jobs which leads to better insurance. And, I am sure it's not as easy as you think. There are more options than there were years ago and assisted living is not at all 'a home'. Now that black people have much better opportunities and getting better all of the time you will see a rise in black families making those same hard choices. Lower income families of all colors take care of there older parents out of love and honor & all that good stuff but I am sure that extra income whatever it is sure helps.

  25. I wonder how much of white American's tendency to dump their mother's into nursing homes has to do with our entitled notion of space. A friend of mine who studied history at UCLA pointed out that Americans are weirdly obsessed with space. In suburban (white) America, most kids have their own rooms. Their own rooms full of their own stuff. Less than a century ago, children didn't get their own bed, let alone their own room. Many families slept in a single room, with the parents in one bed and the kids in another.

    A friend of mine who grew up in Hong Kong said she got really into baking after immigrating to America because few people in crowded Hong Kong have space for an oven, so they cook, but they don't bake. Newlyweds live with one set of parents for years after getting married because available apartments are rare.

    Maybe grandma can't live with her son and his wife because they don't have the "space" (i.e. little Jennifer and Jessica couldn't possibly share a room).

  26. I think that's an excellent point, Chelsea. Depending on the class of white people, they certainly do feel entitled to a lot of individualized and "personal" space. There's a LOT to say about whiteness and physical space, including a white, sort of entitled sense of ownership of space, and I think much of it does apply here. And yes, the fragmented living space of the nuclear family is a big part of it. Once you do that, it seems like your family "needs" a lot more domestic space than families used to think they needed. Making room for grandma can see like just that, having to "make room," sometimes literally, if a family can afford to build an extra room.

  27. Honeybrown1976,

    My name is Elisabeth (with an S) not Elizabeth, so I'm not sure if you're even talking about other posts I've made (I don't even remember making other posts, I got a visit on my blog from this site which is the only reason I remember making this one), but to answer your question I post things like that because I *do* realize that racism exists, but I also realize that nobody will take it seriously if it's brought up on issues like these.

    For instance, take the example you gave - "racism is tied in with poverty, dieting, and health care access when it comes to people of color." Racism is sometimes correlated to poverty and health care access...but dieting? There is no possible way you can make an argument that people eat bad food because of racism. If anything, the opposite is true - lots of African American ethnic dishes ("soul food") are extremely unhealthy, and those are eaten out of ethnic pride. In the information age, where the majority of households have a computer and virtually all of them have a TV, it's common knowledge that salad=good and fried food=bad.

  28. Offering an asian perspective.. an asian who spent the first 20 years in a rich asian country and moved to n.america.
    Asians in my home country often "dump" their mothers and fathers in nursing homes as well.
    Some are just idiots who do not want the hassle of taking care of their "useless" parents who might be a hindrance to their lifestyle and career.
    Some have very valid reasons for placing their parents in nursing homes. I once contemplated placing my father in a nursing home/hospice because even with a 24 hr in home maid care, he was getting to a point where he would do things to endanger himself and no one was physically strong enough to stop him. But I didnt.

    As for white folks putting their mums and dads in nursing homes.. this is my take>>
    I feel that western sociey places a lot of emphasis on being independent and not "living at home with your parents". White parents often talk abt waiting till their kids are 18 and out of the house. Its like they cant wait to "kick them out" when they are 18. Go get a job, be independent. Not saying that all white folks to do. But I hear that a lot. So, what happens to the parents when they get old and need care? Go live in a nursing home, an "independent living facility".
    In the asian society, children are encouraged to stay at home until they are married. There is no such thing as kicking them out once they're 18 or 19. In turn, hopefully the kids will return their "debt" towards their parents and care for them when they are old. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesnt.

  29. There is probably some validity that nursing homes are a white thing. We dumped my maternal grandmother into one 25 years ago. No one wanted to take her in. It was a bad experience and she died from neglect. My father is currently being dumped into one. He just has bad short term memory, not Alzheimer's like the family would like to think. His wife is in short term nursing care due to an accident. She wants a divorce without getting a divorce and does not want to be with him anymore. The solution is to dump him into an old folks home because he has the money. This is dysfunctional and sad. My Vietnamese friend's family all take turns to visit and care for their mother who lives with the eldest son. These are doctors and engineers with tons of money who could easily afford luxury nursing. But they care because of their culture. There is a missing link of honor if my white family.

  30. Well, I have read many of the comments and my view is that Western culture tends to be more selfish and self-centred. People are going about their everyday lives and do not have time for family in the West.

    I have lived in Africa (5 years) and in Europe (approximately 30 years) and I observe that in the West it is the norm to send parents to Nursing homes once they start to get old and less independent. In Africa, for example, people tend to have less money to send their older generation to Nursing homes and many people tend to be more family orientated. My Grandmother (only living Grandparent before she died) had about 7 children and she used to stay with a number of my uncles and aunts and helped to take care of the grandchildren (us). She died of natural causes one day while brushing her teeth. She lived a happy life and we would never have thought of sending her off to a nursing home. Not in a million years.

    In Africa, even when people are poor, they tend to share together. There is a kind of saying over there, when one person has money the whole family benefits.

    Now, in the Western Society, as soon as people are old enough they leave their parents behind in the quest to find fame and fortune. (Nothing wrong with that), but extended family is not top of the list. The old people usually end up in a home. I think this kind of attitude is prevalent among certain racial groups and cultures.

    Now, I worked in an old people's home as a Care Assistant when I was 18 (well over 10 years ago) and have observed that some races send their parents to old people's homes more than others.

    Asians and Africans tend not to send their older generations to old people's homes, older people tend to stay with family until death. It's all about culture.

    However, people who are more Westernised tend to put their older generation in Nursing homes. It has a lot to do with "Western" culture, although this does not apply to all people in the West.

  31. Elisabeth said

    "If anything, the opposite is true - lots of African American ethnic dishes ("soul food") are extremely unhealthy, and those are eaten out of ethnic pride. In the information age, where the majority of households have a computer and virtually all of them have a TV, it's common knowledge that salad=good and fried food=bad."

    Interesting....This post is totally off topic but still relevant, IMO.

    Now, lots of Western foods are equally as bad for the health and cause obesity. I believe there are lots of people in the USA who are overweight/obese regardless of their colour. A family member just got back from America a few days ago and there is "food everywhere", especially fast food, which is not limited to consumption by Black folks.

    Also, I eat "soul food", African, West Indian, and British food but I am neither overweight nor unhealthy (speaking for myself). It is all about how much food you eat and then how much exercise or activity you take part in afterwards. This applies to all races regardless of whether or not they eat "soul food".

    There is no point eating as though there is no tomorrow when you are sitting at home watching TV and not getting out and about much is there? or sitting at work on a computer all day long.

    I have seen overweight Black and White people. So, being overweight has a lot to do with overeating, eating junk, lack of activity, excessive alcohol intake etc. The kinds of food you eat also play their part, but let's be realistic, you are not going to survive by eating only salad. A healthy, wholesome and balanced diet is important. There is nothing wrong with eating fried food in moderation.

    Fish and chips, burgers (usually fried) is not "soul food", neither are those desserts topped with layers of cream that are often eaten in the Western hemisphere and not necessarily by Black people. Neither is the junk food with little nutritional value, lot of preservatives, chemicals and lashings of hydrogenated and saturated fat to clog up the arteries, available in some takeaway foods shops.

    Additionally, as a healthy, fit woman, I am not in the business of wanting to look like a stick or skeleton as I feel that women should have some curves and shape (not fat or flab), but at the same time I take pride in my appearance (I have a flat stomach), eat good food and get exercise or at least walk a few times a week.

    Everybody has to play their part, but of course criticising is often easier isn't it, especially when it comes to Black people.

  32. Try living with a physically active Alzheimer parent and you will soon change your tune. Being woken up a few times every night, wandering off at every opportunity ( Sometimes during the night) Accusing you of being a stranger in her house, threatening to phone the Police, Not being able to feed herself or clean herself. Not recognising her own son who only wants the best for her. Constantly monitoring her medication and giving the correct doses at the correct time of day. Doing this while also trying to keep down a job. You try it for a few months and you might just understand that a nursing home is sometimes the kindest and least stressful thing you can do for your mom.

  33. I see what you're saying, B. But please note that I'm not saying in the post that it's a questionable move in all cases on the part of white American children -- I think I'd do the same in that situation.

    However, my grandmother had nothing like that wrong with her, and when none of her six kids would take her in, I have to question how much that was influenced by white American hyperindividualism, and the rise of the "nuclear family," an ideal made especially enticing and available to white Americans.

  34. It’s all part of the "mainstream"
    (b/c people throw fits here when you just say white people do this or white people do that even though that is the title of the site...) white mentality of individualism. When mothers, fathers, families become burdens and impediments on individual freedoms, they are tossed aside in the "proper" way (because we all know "mainstream" whites love to do horrible, unspeakable, shameful, weird, sadistic, racist things while keeping up appearances. SLAVERY anyone? All those “good” Southern Baptists).What is given up monetarily is made up for in retention of personal freedoms.

    White mothers give birth to people, individuals. POC give birth to black babies, Mexicans, mullatos, Indians etc. POC, having a collective sense of familial responsibility are more likely to rely on family and in return take care of family, especially those that have come before us. We tend to do this even at the expense of comfort, space and luxury.

    Funny how the media is always ready to throw out misleading statistics on POC (especially black people) yet they never have to or care to explore white society’s disturbing numbers. Because white people are individuals and what they do has nothing to do with their lack of skin color.

    Why do you think whites have the highest suicide rates? Other than their lack of coping skills, the individualist mentality is to blame too. Why are WE always made to face our follies and cultural issues and have them on display (out of wedlock births, black men behind bars, drugs, guns, and booty shakers blah blah blah) while whites can continue to do strange, downright horrible things (like let the women who birthed them rot away in the company of strangers) counter to common sense and never be collectively accountable for it?????

  35. @biksmartee

    I shudder at the phrase 'collective accountability.' Should black people be 'collectively accountable' for the much higher rates of incarceration? Well no, because that's white peoples fault.

    I think there is a big difference between saying that there is an something wrong and disturbing about a culture (ie, I think what you were arguing earlier on re: the mainstream) and a call for 'collective accountability' based on what people look like.

    That being said, you are absolutely correct in pointing out that there is a double standard concerning 'black issues' and white ones.

    Another thing I just thought of, i'd bet dollars to donuts that putting elders in nursing homes is highly correlated to life expectancy and the median age of a population.

  36. I agree with beautyhealthzone, western culture believe in putting their families in nursing homes, and not all the time these are 2 income families. There are many white families where the women stay at home and don't have time to visit their parents when they get old. My cousin works at a residential building where rich people live, mostly older white people and she states that the children of these people don't never come to visit them, but the minute they die, they are trying to get the money. She have said a lot of the adult children of these families are counting down the days they leave this earth so they can get hold of their possessions even though they have never been to visited them.

  37. As a son, I don't want to put my mom in a nursing home or home for the aged when she gets older. If it's her choice to live separately from us, I would get her a proper home in a nice environment like the ones in Charlotte retirement homes and a personal caregiver, perhaps. There's nothing I will not provide for her. I want to give her back all the love and care she has given me as much as I am able to. Bringing her to a nursing home is the least, almost never, of my options.

  38. I didn't read all 37 comments, but this is something you didn't touch on in your article.
    I am trying to help my grandma get into a nursing home because she is a danger to herself and a danger to our family.
    She has conversations with people who dont exist. She climbs out of her window at night and has fallen into a drainage ditch at 1:00am (and if it wasn't for me being a smoker and going out at 1:34am for a smoke, she'd have frozen to death in the night). She has set the kitchen on fire for trying to cook toast on the stove at 3am in the morning.... the list goes on and on.

    I'm woken up every night, 3 to 5 times because she is awake and rearranging the house at unGodly hours, or trying to "walk home, to her parents' house" (Whom have been dead for 80 something years). My parents and I are beginning to become regularly reprimanded at our jobs because of our lack of sleep and increased stress. Our jobs are the only thing keeping my grandmother with a roof over her head.
    Now, when we finally have had enough, and ignore the loud noises in the living room of her rummaging around, and wake up the next morning and see she's fallen, broken her hip and, God forbid, has died, who do you think they will blame?
    The very people working and slaving to the bone to keep her alive and safe and fed.
    So tell me, again, how it's a poor family idea/values to put an aging family member in a place where they will receive the care they need.
    Mind you, my grandmother has lived with us for 20 years out of the 26 my parents have been married. And, the 6 years she lived elsewhere were not all in a row (3 years in NYC, 2 years in an apartment she rented, 1 year in a condo, every time moving back in with us till she found a new place.)


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