Are My Doctors Hearing Me? The Reality of Medical Racism

As African American women, it seems as if we are always at the bottom of the barrel and looked at with more scrutiny. It seems like we can not do one simple thing without the judgment of others. These judgments range from the way we dress to the way we wear our hair. Our voices are rarely heard when it comes to politics, our own emotions or our own health in the doctor’s office. We may not realize this when we are sitting with the doctor explaining our concerns, but we are not the only ones who get brushed off. Many of our fellow African American sisters experience the same agonizing doctor’s visits. Often, it isn’t until we look at the statistics that we see the racism and discrimination in health care.


Racism in medicine has a dark and unsettling history. Eugenics spurred an attempt to reduce and eventually eliminate the African American population. A popular event that happened in history that relates to eugenics was the Mississippi Appendectomy. The Mississippi Appendectomy occurred in South Carolina and Mississippi during the 1920s through the 1970s and doctors would tell these patients that they needed their appendix removed or another surgery, but in reality they were blindly sterilized, according to ABC News. Fannie Lou Hamer, a woman you may have heard of, was one of the victims of this immoral act. Despite the wrongdoings performed against her, Mrs. Hamer took this as an opportunity to become a leader in the civil rights movement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).


Environmental racism (when places where the population is mainly people of color are neglected access to healthy, beneficial food options and have increased exposure to hazardous waste) is a contributor to the declining health of the African American community. This impacts the health of children, fathers, mothers… And mothers-to-be. Did you know that, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications? Serena Williams shared her story about her near death experience after she gave birth to her daughter. She delivered her baby through a successful emergency C-section but only 24 hours later the condition of her life was uncertain. Not only was she stricken with a pulmonary embolism, but one of her C-section wounds popped open as well. Unfortunately, these moments of trepidation are experienced by many black women as they try to bring life into this world.


It is an unfortunate reality that our black women are often dismissed and brushed off by their doctors. It is rumored that some doctors believe that black patients have a higher pain tolerance so that when patients do report their concerns, these doctors do not prioritize their medical needs. I feel that a way to reduce these staggering statistics that pertain to the overall health and mortality of African American patients is to have more African American doctors. According to USA Today, although the amount of black doctors has risen from 5.6 percent to 7.7 percent between the years of 1980 and 2016, the African American enrollment in medical school still lags. The general African American population is about 14 percent, which means there are not enough doctors to treat us and keep us healthy.


As a community, it is important that we keep tabs on our health by eating as healthy as we can and incorporating exercise when we are able. Asking the doctors as many questions as we can, not allowing them to dismiss us, and being vigilant about our health will put us on the path to healthy living. We are an amazing people, but in order to stay amazing we must put our health first.