Feb 1, 2022
Content Warning: Racism
As discussed in my previous installment of this series on medical inequalities, white men have been the predominant practitioners of allopathic medicine since its foundation. During the rise of modern medicine in the United States, the only people with the power and privilege to enter the medical field were white men. BIPOC were not only absent from the medical industry as practitioners, but also as patients, with white men used as the gold standard patient for any legitimate medical study.
Despite white men being used as the primary demographic during the first legitimate medical studies, this did not stop Civil War era doctors from abusing their slaves for medical experiments, a practice which laid the foundation for centuries of medical abuse against BIPOC. This medical experimentation on black people by white practioners continued far past slavery and segregation, with unethical, vile experiments such as the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” (active from 1932 to 1972) only furthering the deep (extremely understandable) mistrust that BIPOC have in Western medicine. Not only are people of color underrepresented in the medical field because of elitism in the American medical profession, they are also still severely underrepresented in medical studies (likely in part due to their historically warranted distrust in the medical industry). This creates an unfortunate dilemma because in order for allopathic medicine to address the needs of minorities, they must be represented in medical studies. With the deeply racist roots of the medical system and the systemic underrepresentation of BIPOC as practitioners, BIPOC are only driven further away from participation in such studies and Western medicine as a whole.
While race is not a genetically or biologically real concept, sociocultural perceptions of race have created actual biological disparities for those associated with specific racial categories. Rates of chronic hypertension and cardiovascular disease are significantly higher for black Americans when compared with their white counterparts. This is not due to a genetic predisposition to these diseases but rather chronic exposure to stressors such as racial discrimination. The CDC has classified racism as a public health issue, which is certainly true in a variety of ways. In 2022 black women and/or their infants are still more likely to die during childbirth compared to white mothers, and this disparity has innumerable implications. Not only are black women more likely to experience chronic stress due to racism, causing issues during pregnancy, they are also more likely to experience discrimination and medical malpractice throughout their pregnancy and birth. Black women and BIPOC in general are also far more likely to be exposed to environmental factors that are harmful to their health. The products we consume, the environment around us, the care we receive, all depend on our place within society; and since BIPOC are still largely affected by income inequalities, they are more likely to experience health issues and also more likely not seek out or receive proper care.
Two women, Eddwina Bright and Ashlee Wisdom, who had their own negative experiences with the healthcare system in America, created an app “Health in Her Hue” which aims to pair black women with culturally sensitive healthcare providers. While there are some positive initiatives trying to combat some of the symptoms of medical racism, systemic race issues —especially underrepresentation of BIPOC as practitioners— must be addressed if we ever want our healthcare system to truly benefit us all. Of course, these issues go much deeper than simply hiring more black doctors, especially when medical school in the US costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, like with practically everything else, the problem lies with capitalism. The systemic issues of the medical system here in the US, and frankly globally, can be almost universally attributed to capitalism being weaponized as an extension of the white heteropatriarchy. I wish there was a simple answer to these types of problems, and while I will continue to uplift initiatives such as the “Health in Her Hue” app, it is important to raise awareness to the systemic issues that cannot be fixed with just one app. The United States’ social fabric is a clusterfuck of systemic issues, we must dedicate a concentrated effort toward increasing awareness about how systems like capitalism, colonialism, and the patriarchy perpetuate the problems that inflict every population demographic.