Black Body /White coat
I was told about a new TV show called The Underground. The show explores a fictional exploration on the historical oppression of black people. Early on in the show it’s focus was on a special “oasis” for black people who escaped from slavery only to find out (spoiler) that the town was experimenting on the black residents and sterilizing them to reduce the black population. Immediately I recognized this story line as a commentary on some of the past issues with black people in being exploited by doctors. I mentioned it to my friend who had suggested the show and he had never heard that such experiments that were done on black people nor the other ways where African americans were exploited by health professionals when they were seeking help.
If you’ve never heard the story of Henrietta Lacks, the Tuskegee syphilis study, or James Marion Sims who developed the modern day speculum by experimenting on black women I encourage you to research these stories. The complicated history of black people being denied health care or being harmed by the undercurrent of bias in practices is still an issue today.
One of the biases/ stereotypes is black people being seen as resilient or strong and so they are not taken as seriously as other races of people when complaining of pain or bringing up health concerns. Serena Williams story of giving birth to her daughter is an example of how underlying racism can affect the treatment of black people in hospitals. Black women are 3 times more likely to die from childbirth according to studies. The maternal mortality disparity isn’t because black women are having more difficult births but because of how they are viewed and treated in the hospital.
Some of the issues we face are not even because of racism but because of a simple neglect of representation. I once had a medical situation misdiagnosed and started the wrong treatment because my anatomy was unfamiliar to the doctor. She wasn’t malicious, she was actually a lovely, kind doctor and thankfully she referred me to a specialist before any real harm was done. But that got me thinking about how many times I’ve researched a medical issue or pictures of something I want to learn about and I primarily received examples of white people with these conditions. Or descriptions of how white skin reacts to things. Having diversity in pictures and how different people groups react to illness is important. Being a woman with dark skin means that my skin reacts differently to bruises and cuts. While there have been huge strides in paying attention to these differences in the medical world and thankfully there are many doctors that are constantly learning and making sure they are paying attention to the different needs of their patients it can still be challenging to receive needed help.
It’s no wonder that there is some distrust in the black community towards the medical world. Obviously not every black person feels this way and I would imagine it would depend on your own experiences as well as things you have grown up hearing. Black women in America have one of the highest incidents of heart disease and other related heart issues. While there are many underlying societal and possibly historic reasons for this I think it’s important and time for us to be proactive about our health in general. We should not be content to just look good but not actually be healthy. I love fried food as much as the next person but we need to put things into moderation and give priority to our health. We need to take care of our mental and spiritual health, exercise, eat nutritious food, rest and take vitamins that we may have difficulty getting in our food. This is the primary way we will be able to live the lives of productivity and vitality that we dream of.
What are you doing to live in greater health?