Health and Beauty

Medical Racism: It is a matter of Black life and death. Here is why.

Young Woman Thinking --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Young Woman Thinking — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

According to New York Times’ “Rise in Suicides By Black Children Surprises Researchers” article, more and more Black children are committing suicide. The factors in the article include exposure to violence, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and poverty. The article says, “The suicide rate among black children has nearly doubled since the early 1990s, while the rate for white children has declined, a new study has found, an unusual pattern that seemed to suggest something troubling was happening among some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.“ Read the rest of the article here.This is scary. Aside from the issues brought up in the article, I believe medical racism is also a reason. It is something we don’t talk about because it is rarely addressed.

What is medical racism? Medical racism is not as obvious as stealing cells and conducting horrible experiments on human beings. In case you don’t know, medical racism of the past on Black people included the horrific Tuskegee and Guatemala experiments. It also targeted specifically Black women. Black women were used as guinea pigs during the creation of gynecology and even recently, Black women faced state sanctioned forced sterilizations.

The modern version is a lot like modern racism. It is cloaked in microagressions. Medical racism is much more nuanced and sophisticated. Medical racism is, for example, when Black patients are treated differently by healthcare professionals than White ones. According to a Think Progress article called, “Challenging Medical Racism And Physicians’ Preference For White Patients” doctors spent less time with Black patients than they did with White patients. Doctors also preferred White patients. Why? Because of their racial biases. Read more here.

The fact is that some doctors and people don’t see Black people’s symptoms. Why? People, including doctors actually believe Black folks are supposedly stronger and feel less pain because we are Black. According to a NBC.com article, “A recent study by Green of 200 chronic pain patients in the University of Michigan health system found that black patients were prescribed fewer pain medications than whites and that women were given weaker pain medications than men were given. The research published in the Journal of Pain showed that, on average, a minority pain patient would be prescribed 1.8 pain medications compared to 2.6 drugs for non-minority sufferers.”  Read more here.

Read: Why We Think Black People Feel Less Pain Than White People And How It Affects Society

Medical racism also prevents Black researchers from studying illnesses because they lack funding. A University of Kansas study found that in 2011, “A black scientist was one­ third less likely than a white counterpart to get a research project financed, the study found.” If they cannot conduct studies, our issues are ignored and more of us will suffer from illnesses. Read more here.

What can we do?

  • Take control of our lives and that starts by making your mental and physical health a priority. That includes proper diet, exercise, regular checkups and seeking therapy.
  • We also have to acknowledge there are also religious factors that prevent us from seeking care. Because of religiosity, many of us are told that god will solve all of our problems if we simply pray on it. We have to change our thinking. If you believe in god, you must realize that god gave doctors these gifts to assist you.
  • We need to focus on the lack of access to mental health care professionals in Black communities. For example, have you noticed when there is a shooting and children are impacted, mental health professionals are immediately called in to White schools. We don’t see this with Black schools. Perhaps it is lack of resources or apathy. Who knows. We need to tell schools to provide school counselors in places where they are needed. That includes Black communities.
  • We need to invest in Black doctors. That starts by encouraging Black students to see the medical field as a viable option. I am not talking about a medical assistant or aide. They are honorable occupations. I am talking about becoming a medical professional who makes healthcare decisions. That means we need more Black doctors and nurses.
  • Also consider making a Black doctor your physician. I will not lie. My primary doctor is a Black woman on purpose. Unlike White doctors, she makes me feel like my issues are important and that I am more than a number. She actually cares. A recent study shown that Black doctors have a better bedside manner:

The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, found black physicians’ communication with black patients was overwhelmingly positive, but their communication with white patients yielded a mix of positive and negative non-verbal behaviors. “Black physicians used high degrees of smile, touch and open body position with black patients,” Stepanikova said. “With white patients they had a high use of smile and gaze, but a low use of open body position. This conflicted pattern of communication may suggest a lack of social ease.”

Read more hereFor a list of Black Doctors go to www.nmanet.org 

  • Finally, if you sense something wrong with you or someone you know and a doctor says there isn’t, trust your instinct. Seek a second opinion. You are responsible for your life.

Medical racism is a matter of life and death. It prevents Black patients from receiving adequate care. As a result, preventable illnesses become serious illnesses and can even lead to death. These are some of the reasons why Black children and adults mental and physical health issues to go untreated. Our job as Black parents and adult humans is to protect our children, adult family, friends and ourselves, because as the history has shown, no one else will.  Take care of you.

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2 comments

  1. Avecuny 20 May, 2015 at 09:24 Reply

    Staying healthy through my diet and regular exercise is a top priority for me in part due to issues highlighted in this post. When I was a child, my parents always told me to “seek god” and “just pray about it” when I expressed depressive and suicidal thoughts. I’m glad that my siblings have had the opportunity for therapy. Black children deserve much more attention for their mental health.

    I also want to express that encouraging more blacks to become doctors and having a black doctor is a good forward step. However, I’ve noticed that black doctors (especially black male doctors, AA or foreign) still have misogynoir-like behavior towards black female patients. Trust your gut, if the doctor is dismissive towards you, or overly familiar, go to someone else.

  2. reality_check 27 May, 2015 at 12:58 Reply

    This is a VERY important topic. I am convinced that we (blacks) receive sub-par medical treatment just because of both individual and group biases. I try to patronize black doctors whenever possible because of this fact.

    If you haven’t already, read Harriet Washington’s book “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” This book is an eye opener indeed!

    Thank you BBG for the link to black doctor network! I’ve been looking for something like this for years. Thank you again.

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