Devaluing of Black Bodies, Minds and Souls in the Healthcare System

“I put forth, and I maintain: If I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that.” Words asserted by

Dr. Susan Moore ring out to all of us in an interview with Democracy Now December 30 2020

with host Amy Goodman. The article posted as “Say Her Name: Dr Susan Moore, MD” offers a

chilling account of her experience of inhumane treatment at the hands of her peers denying

access to comprehensive care for COVID treatment. How many other names should we be

calling and how many other lives need to be lost before we realize that in addition to COVID 19,

racism is the number one health crisis in America? Such inhumane treatment illustrates what

can be characterized as intentional and often interconnected efforts toward the devaluing of

black bodies, minds, and souls in a health care system rooted in racism. Re-establishing the

value, worth and importance of Black American lives in health care is then essential to

combating such racism.


The Anti-Racism Committee of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition is a committee

consisting of public, private, and community members working collaboratively by examining,

addressing and facilitating and cultural proficiency in health care systems to eliminate the

effects of systemic racism that Black Americans experience. The Anti-Racism Committee was

created because of the historic mistrust against health care systems in America that exists

among Black Americans and believes that leveraging an accurate understanding of mistrust will

create an opportunity to address cultural differences for real solutions to achieve health equity.


Dr Moore’s story has exposed that race is the defining factor as to how Black Americans are

treated in health care without regard to education level, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual

orientation or religion. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Americans yet again find

themselves expendable. Yet, several historical examples exist of such mistreatment of Black

Americans by the health care system-the gynecologic experimentation of enslaved Black

women by J Marion Sims or the Tuskegee Airmen denied access to medication to cure syphilis

or ignoring informed consent from Henrietta Lacks for the use of her human cells for research.

Racism is deeply ingrained in the medical culture in America often fueled by myths and

stereotypes fostered by the very system designed to help those that are victimized. Black

Americans regularly recognize the necessity to deflect a constant barrage of subtle and overt

myths and stereotypes erroneously cast upon their personhood. The medical and psychological

literature has described in the black patient/white doctor encounter that the negative perception

of Black Americans is not always self-actualized. In many healthcare system settings, white

professional anxiety is often projected onto black patients as the latter attempt to navigate a

multi-sensory assault on their very dignity. Situational anxiety and often unjustified levels of

hostility targeted toward Black patients increases the anxiety they experience. Additional

examples of poor quality experiences in health care encounters include the misperception that

Black Americans have higher pain thresholds. As a consequence, Blacks have to work harder

to convince medical staff of the validity of their health concerns regarding pain. This is seen

repeatedly among patients at high risk for pain such as those suffering with sickle cell disease.

Such overt and implicit biases often held by non-Black health care professionals toward Black

patients impair health care. During the COVID pandemic, these are simply a few pre-existing

comorbid conditions that exist for Black Americans that are not disclosed as often as diabetes or

hypertension.


The Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition is a social justice organization created to address the

impact of racism on African American disparities including policy inequities, historical trauma,

food insecurity, research, behavioral health and addiction services by working to empower,

educate and advocate for health equity in under-served communities. The Anti Racism

Committee of The Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition hopes to improve the Black American

experience utilizing cultural proficiency in health care systems.


Black Americans do not have the means to create their own separate health care treatment

system and should not have to as tax paying citizens. The health care system has a

responsibility to create an environment where all bodies minds and souls are treated with equal

value.


This is a call to action. Join us as we move beyond conversation and towards effecting

change.


Dawn Pulin MA Ed BSN LPC is the Director of Behavioral Health and Addiction and the Chair of

the Anti-Racism Committee for The Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition

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