The effects of racial discrimination can be seen in many American institutions, and healthcare is no different. From the denial of treatment in the Tuskegee experiments during the 1930s to the discriminatory suggestions of using African countries as testing grounds for Covid-19 treatments, people of color and specifically African Americans have been vulnerable to manipulation and misinformation from the medical community for years.
This sad fact has bred generations of minorities who are conditioned to not trust science and fear doctors and modern medicine. The combination of historical exploitation and present-day structural racism in health care has created the mistrust and allowed it to continue. If a bridge is not built between the scientific and minority communities, we will continue to see a perpetuation of preventable diseases take the lives of those we love.
When I was nine years old, I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease that had no cure. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office with my parents as we got lost in the medical jargon of procedures and treatments that we couldn’t even pronounce, let alone understand. I have visited many doctors since then, and very few of them took the time to properly explain my health status to me and my family in a way that we could understand. This is a common occurrence that is seen during the doctor appointments of many Black Americans today.
Crippling fear of abuse is what keeps many minorities from seeking medical care until it is too late. It is not uncommon for people of color to downplay their pains and symptoms in order to avoid expensive doctor appointments and missing work. This is unfortunate even more so, because Black Americans suffer disproportionately from chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure which all need long term medical interventions. This dangerous cycle allows for preventable diseases to continue affecting minority communities because of a lack of care and education.
So, what can be done to change this? When it comes to healthcare, inequality plays a major role in the mistrust that exists in the Black community. Therefore, instead of waiting for a change in our white counterpart medical professionals, we must increase Black representation in these positions. We need more minority scientists, nurses, doctors, and public health advocates who can relate to their community and rebuild the trust through healthy communication. We need people to teach minority communities the facts about diseases and transmission that will arm them with the information to make better health decisions and advocate for themselves.
However, above all, we have to become more responsible for our health and grow in self advocacy. In order to take your health back into your hands, you must:
1) Know Yourself - be aware of diseases that run in your family and how to lower your risk.
2) Know Your Needs - listen to your body when things don’t feel right and never ignore signs.
3) Know How To Get What You Need - read and talk to others regarding any health problems you have and never be afraid to ask your doctor questions.
Like anything else, when you know better you can do better. It is your human right to receive medical care that eases your soul. You should leave your doctor’s office completely understanding the scope of your overall health and any details regarding diagnosis and procedures. All patients have the right to be autonomous and make decisions regarding their health. But if you cannot advocate for yourself, then who will?
Hosea 4:6a – ‘My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge...’
Malachi 2:10 – ‘Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other, violating the covenant of our ancestors?’