Something has been bothering me for the last couple of days. I shared a post, on my personal page, that detailed the experiences of Black people having to convince doctors that they’re worthy of being treated well. There was an ER doc, who spoke of a time, where she was on the receiving end of a Black family trying to convince her of their family member’s humanity. Neil Degrasse Tyson spoke on his experience with this when it came to his father and a writer for the New Yorker, who is also a PHD holder, spoke about his experiences with this.
I shared this, with a story of my own, and while I could not be more aware of medical bias – I was hit with all kinds of emotions, when my friends, people I care deeply about, started posting their encounters. Let me share with you the story I posted:
“My dad is in the medical field and was(is) VERY well known all over Virginia. When I lived there, any time I met a new doctor, I would tell them that I was [XX] Barnes’ daughter and the change in demeanor was always instant. Their eyes would light up. No longer were they looking at me with that blank stare of indifference, they were smiling at me, warm. They asked how he was and to tell him so and so said hello. Most importantly, they always promised that I would NOW be receiving the best care… Now.
Occasionally, I’d meet a fresh-out-of-school doctor who didn’t recognize my dad’s name, so I started having them add who I was to my file. It worked. Flawlessly.
Even less often, I’d forgo the name drop, just to see if I still needed to do it. It was always like I was talking to a brick wall-none of them would listen to me or I would get treated as a criminal or pain addict. Then I’d name drop and boom, all was well.
My GG and pop pop, who still live in VA, use my dad’s name at appointments to this day. But not every Black person has a “[XX] Barnes” to shield them from medical bias.
And I certainly can’t use his name here in CO, so now neither do I.”
First, let me acknowledge the absolute privilege that I had (yes, even those in oppressed groups can have a privilege here and there), to be able to use my father’s name to receive better (read equal) treatment.
Let me also acknowledge the absolute ridiculousness that it was necessary AND how horrifying it was to realize that I am SO accustomed to this, that it seems normal. That my own mistreatment didn’t cause me any emotion – it wasn’t until my friends commented and messaged me, that I sat with the depravity of it all.
From collapsed lungs to misdiagnosed infections, heart issues, diabetic emergencies, dying family members and all manner of dire emergencies – my friends were treated poorly until(if) they could prove that they were upstanding citizens or someone deemed worthy. And that should never, ever be the case.
My very first IWW was on medical bias, and how Black women are 243% more likely to die during childbirth than white women, because of it. I could give you all the stats about medical bias. I could point out the studies conducted, that show some doctors believe the timeless racist trope, that Black people don’t feel pain the same and therefore can withstand more – which is especially diabolical for those with chronic illnesses, like sickle cell. We could get into how doctors perform life-saving measures on Black people less or how simply having a Black doctor greatly increases the level of care Black people receive. But I don’t want to do that this time, because while stats are important, it’s easy to overlook the individual ramifications. It’s more poignant, I think, to hear what has happened to people.
I want you to think about the person, who died during childbirth, because the doctor refused to listen to her pleas – and when she started to lose warmth and consciousness, her partner’s plea. She bled out.
Of my friend with a collapsed lung, who was told she was exaggerating.
Of the many, many Black people who are assumed to be on drugs and treated as such, instead of listening to what is going on with them and treating that. I’d be a part of this group.
Please consider the person I know, a white woman, who had just given birth herself and mustered up the energy to confront the nurses and doctors who were neglecting a Black mama nearby, who had also just given birth. Those same nurses and doctors were noticeably wonderful to her.
I want you to imagine, truly imagine, the horror experienced by the Black woman with a chronic illness, who was so neglected that she passed out (without anyone noticing for hours) and was found face down on the hospital floor. She died. She was a real person who was loved by those close to me.
What about the person whom I am distantly associated with, a nurse, who SWORE that she had never in her 30 years seen any medical bias. That those she worked with would never. I let her dig a deeper hole, which she should have found suspicious, but she didn’t. When I asked if she remembered a particular instance I’d spoken about in the past, she said that she did and went on about how horrible it was. When I explained that it happened at her hospital, with a doctor she works with and spoke highly of, well she didn’t like that very much. She ended up blocking me and is probably saying the same “never in my 30 years” to this day.
Think about me. Who has a wonderful relationship with an amazing partner and who has not had children because I am scared.
I. Am. Scared.
And that’s saying something. I’ve seen death close up, I’ve been in precarious situations and I do not scare easily. I am generally pretty fearless, don’t back down and have a fire in me that has an endless amount of fuel, so it seems. But this, I shy away from.
I don’t live in VA anymore and can’t use my dad’s name as an invisible forcefield (not that I’d feel 100% secure.) My education (not that it should make a damn difference) won’t help me. My “voice,” the one I use for work or around people that aren’t a part of my community (aka codeswitching), isn’t enough. When I walk into a medical facility, I no longer have control. I’m at the whim of someone’s (realized or not) biases and that could very well be the difference between life and death for me. And I REFUSE to leave another Black child without a parent because of the sickness that is racism. I will not. Not if I can help it.
What’s almost as bad as all of this, is how numb we are to it. This is normal for so many Black people.
I sometimes wonder if America, or I guess the powers that be, knows how lucky they are. Lucky that, as viral sensation/activist Kimberly Jones said, Black people are looking for equality and not revenge.
When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.