The Back Page

Wibber Anthropology


Texas Health Commissioner William Reynolds (“Reyn”) Archer III, in his latest attempt to explain state health policy, told The New York Times last month that the high rate of teen pregnancy in Texas is a consequence of Hispanic cultural resistance to family planning. “If I were to go to a Hispanic community and say, ‘Well, we need to get you into family planning,’ they say, ‘No, I want to be pregnant.'”

This isn’t the first time the Commissioner – an obstetrician-gynecologist who says he “thinks like an anthropologist” – has delivered pearls of cross-cultural wisdom:

Archer once said black people apparently valued “loyalty more than honesty,” and that might explain “why a mostly black jury thought O.J. Simpson was innocent while most white people did not, or why blacks might be loyal to Jesse Jackson even if they didn’t agree with him. “The state’s highest-ranking health professional declared it “a bad idea” to give women birth-control pills, and said that as a doctor counseling pregnant women he tried to make them “bend to my will” or else sent them on their way.

When reporter Adam Clymer pointed out that 27.5 percent of adult Texans and 39.1 percent of Texas children have no health insurance (the national figures, respectively, are 19.7 percent and 25.7 percent), Archer responded that he “doubted that coverage made much real difference to health.”

When his comments caused a political firestorm (particularly from Hispanic organizations), Archer apologized. His boss, Governor Bush, called the apology “appropriate” and said no further action was necessary. But then the Governor’s notions of health care appear to be rooted in the same sort of drive-by anthropology. Asked earlier this year if he thought Texans without insurance had sufficient access to health care, Bush said, “You go to emergency rooms in my state…. They’re full of people. There’s access.”

Leaving aside the Governor’s notions of effective health care, the question does spring to mind: When was the last time George W. Bush saw the inside of a hospital emergency room?

As it happens, The Back Page is also a dedicated student of anthropology. We immediately noticed that both Archer (son of Bill) and Bush are members of that little-studied social group: White Boys Born Rich (“Wibbers”). Much of the otherwise puzzling behavior of these peculiar people can be attributed to their membership in this tribe.

Some of the most important cultural characteristics of Wibbers:

In the face of all evidence to the contrary, Wibbers like to believe they owe their station in life to nothing but personal merit. At the country club, in the board room, in the gated community, in the company helicopter, one hears the refrain, “I’m a self-made man – like my daddy and my granddaddy before him. I can’t help it if these poor folks were just too dumb to be born into money.”On health care: Wibbers can’t understand why poor people don’t go out and hire a specialist when they need one. “Look at me – do you think this hairline comes natural? I paid good money for it. If people can’t afford to get sick, they should know enough to stay healthy.” On family planning: Wibbers believe you get the family you pay for. “Look at Desirée here. She costs me plenty, just to keep her in clothes. And I can’t begin to tell you how much I’m paying for the Ex and her three rugrats.”On values: from birth, Wibbers understand there’s one thing more important than loyalty, honesty, or the public welfare: it’s money. “Dr. Archer explained [to the Times] why the state tolerated having 598,000 children eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state health plan for the poor, but not enrolled in the program: ‘The problem is that the Legislature knows that if we are successful, and we got all those kids registered, they would not balance their budgets any more.'”

Armed with such cultural insight about the curious habits of Wibbers, the student can easily determine why the Wibber charged with improving the health care of Texas citizens spends more time blaming them for not taking better care of themselves.