I am a black woman and I honestly visit my primary doctor about once a year. Prior to my insurance coverage, I was seen probably once every 15 -18 months or longer.
Black women, myself included are typically wary of the US healthcare system. There are multifaceted reasons why this fear exists and many of it stems from of intersectional issues in treatment due to race, class and gender inequalities. Black women have been disproportionately been subjected to more inhuman treatments in the American health system than any other socio-ethnic groups. When we pull back the cloak of history and analyze the practices of redlining we can gain understanding of why there’s still perpetuated prejudices and limited access to healthcare facilities. Predominantly black neighborhoods are more likely to lack local primary care centers and access to health insurance adds to the complexity of this topic. Ultimately, what’s clear, many of these factors are the rippling effects of structural racism that needs to be addressed!
Test Subjects & Patient autonomy
The US has a rich history of using black women and black bodies as test subjects for research studies. First, these unfortunate victims were stripped of their rights and patient autonomy and then ushered to a complex world of “research test trials” without a full disclosure of what was actually being done to their bodies. We can list the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, where men and women were strategically exposed to syphilis and left without treatment for researchers to document the effects and stages of STI to the use of Henrietta Lacks cells without her consent. There are countless of unethical procedures done on black women that have slipped past the pages of the record books.
As a woman, I benefit from all the knowledge that’s been obtained through research for example in women’s reproductive health. However, I do not condone the heinous use people for test trials without their consent. It’s well time to unmask the dark world of human test subjects, one of which was the practice of J. Marion Sims. Concrete evidence surfaced showing J. Marion Sims, often referred to as the “father of gynecologist,” conducted painful experiments on black women to expand the understanding of women’s reproductive health. The test subjects were prodded, injected and had unsanitary items thrust in some of the most sensitive parts of a woman’s body. They were stripped of their voice and power over their bodies and had little recourse for their experiences. These findings led to the removal of a statue in honor of this research from a pedestal in Central Park.
I say, good riddance, who’s next!?
What’s frightening, these are some of the individuals we know of, there are countless others!
Let’s not forget the trauma that has been past down from generation to generation from the horrific treatments transpired from the highly profitable human slave economy.
I raise my eye of scrutiny whenever I read test trials being conducted in vulnerable population groups; those local and abroad in developing countries. My sympathies are to those who are not privy to their human rights and thus subjected to gross violations of these rights. This is where education matters! Many will fall victim without necessary protective measure in placed and the education of those rights. Greater advocacy is needed around this topic!
Recently, more and more articles have surfaced on the mistreatment of black women in the healthcare system. There’s been some coverage on news media outlets, protests, and heated conversations on social media. Women are stepping forward and sharing their stories and I applaud them for their bravery! Sadly enough, these stories are ones that we’ve shared within our community for years.
I was raised with the mentality, even if it wasn’t explicitly said, “You go see the doctors when necessary.” Have you heard of the expression, “If it ain’t broke or hurting, don’t fix it?” Now, I don’t condone this mentality. It doesn’t lead to a healthier lifestyle.
What needs to be fixed is the system and more measures of accountability and transparency.
Change the narrative
It’s mind blowing how pervasive the narrative of the strong black woman is and how it has permeated throughout the healthcare system. “The strong black” woman comes from centuries of classifying the black woman as “other,” an outcast group. Somehow through the lens of racism, black woman have “thicker skin,” and are able to endure harsher conditions. It sometimes refers to the notion that somehow, black woman have a higher tolerance for pain. While our resilience has been the wind under our wings to push through the cords of oppression, it has somewhat usurped our ability to be vulnerable to receiving sensitive care.
The caricatures of the exaggerated black women and its implications has long overarching effects on how we’re viewed in society. Patients often complain that their voices are not heard. Let’s be clear if you’re misunderstood, it can easily lead to gross, damaging misdiagnoses.
The silencing of our voices is dangerous and life-threatening!
Misdiagnosis because of skin tone is one example of how the conception of exaggeration can come to play. Yes, our skin pigmentation is often darker than those of other ethnic groups. Rashes, for example, can look very different on darker pigmented skin than those of lighter skin. One can easily be brushed aside because a rash “doesn’t look as severe” as the patient claims it to be. Imagine rushing your child to the ER because of a rash but your son doesn’t meet the “urgent” threshold because of how the rash is visibly seen on his skin.
There’s good news! Despite these setbacks progress are being made. Studies and publishes such as the Kawaski Disease Comparison are seeking to change how we document infections of the dermis. In this report, through a series of detailed photos and commentary, it depicts how rashes appear on darker skin in comparison, to those of lighter pigments.
To counteract the long history of abuse and neglect, we need more research that directly and positively benefits the black community.
Black doctors are underrepresented. Even more potent, black doctors themselves more often than not, also face structural barriers. These prejudices and negative effects of implicit biases prevent them from getting to where they are most needed, in our communities!
It’s like a hijacked system where communities of color will always be at a disadvantage, unless action is taken. Healthcare institutions must address these biases. Healthcare professionals ought to be required to take anti-racism workshops and other implicit bias training.
Apart from the factors mentioned throughout this article, one main contributing factor to my hesitation to regularly scheduled visits is the lack of representation. Black female doctors are grossly underrepresented in the medical sector. As we noted, black women have some of the highest percentages of mistreatment, medical malpractice than other racial groups. When it comes to issues concerning my body, there’s comfort in speaking to someone that can directly relate to your sense of being. Someone who can readily understand issues that might particularly affect your demographic.
Now how to do you find such a person?
Many of us rely on our social circle for recommendations. For those outside a social circle you can confide in, try an online resource.
One website that helped me locate and schedule a doctor’s appointment in my local area was zocdoc.com. It’s free and easy to navigate!
There, I was able to find and retain a black woman physician!
If you know your insurance, you can easily research what hospital, primary physician and other specificalize care accepts your health plan coverage.
Having a regularly scheduled doctor appointments is important!
As often you have the capacity to do routine exams, go ahead and do so. Take the time to do your research and voice your concerns!
I’ve touched on some of the factors on this issue and gave a general overview of the plight of black women in the healthcare system. Please take some time to look through the articles listed below.
Read more about it:
Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot