Anti-Racism 101

11 Health Gap


“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired” –freedom-fighter Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer walked with a limp and still had a blood clot behind her eye from being severely beaten by police in a Mississippi jail. She was the youngest of 20 children born to sharecroppers in Mississippi, where she had spent much of her life picking cotton until she was fired for trying to register to vote….

And yet President Lyndon B. Johnson was terrified of her, terrified of the appeal she would make in 1964 before the Democratic National Committee’s credentials panel on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.” –Deneen L. Brown

“I think one of the things we have to look at when we talk about this scientific myth of race, and the ideology of race, is how the science functions politically. Economic conditions, conditions of life that people are in affect their health….The enslavement, torture, and denial of life necessities for so much of American history to black folks produces what some people have called a slave health deficit in early Colonial and Republican American history. And then, even well into the 20th century, you had people believing that all our health problems were hardwired into our biology. So when you believe that, it’s much easier to deny access to health care for folks.

And more recently, you don’t get the direct biological arguments being made as much. What you see now is the way that scientific beliefs about the biology of black people is then linked to equally false and dangerous beliefs about the culture of African-Americans. One example of this was when scientific beliefs about syphilis were connected to ideas about morals and sexual habits of black folk.

When you have politicians and corporations that are willing to use those cultural arguments, propped up by the rhetoric of science, it becomes much easier to continue to avoid researching and addressing all the economic, environmental and cultural conditions that produce hypertension and stress and all these other health issues.”

–Chenjerai Kumanyika

The government used Black people as guinea pigs.

“Coerced sterilization is a shameful part of America’s history, and one doesn’t have to go too far back to find examples of it. Used as a means of controlling “undesirable” populations – immigrants, people of color, poor people, unmarried mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill – federally-funded sterilization programs took place in 32 states throughout the 20th century. Driven by prejudiced notions of science and social control, these programs informed policies on immigration and segregation.

As historian William Deverell explains in a piece discussing the ‘Asexualization Acts’ that led to the sterilization of more than 20,000 California men and women, “If you are sterilizing someone, you are saying, if not to them directly, ‘Your possible progeny are inassimilable, and we choose not to deal with that.’”

According to Andrea Estrada at UC Santa Barbara, forced sterilization was particularly rampant in California (the state’s eugenics program even inspired the Nazis):

There is today one state,’ wrote Hitler, in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of citizenship] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States. (from The L.A. Times)Lisa Ko

Racist roots of gynecology:

Many enslaved Black women endured brutal gynecological experiments performed on maladies that resulted from the sexual violence they were subjected to, and women of color often still receive sub-par, discriminatory healthcare.

Infant/maternal mortality:

In recent years, as high rates of maternal mortality in the U.S. have alarmed researchers, one statistic has been especially concerning. According to the CDC, black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health. Put another way, a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes. In a national study of five medical complications that are common causes of maternal death and injury, black women were two to three times more likely to die than white women who had the same condition.” –Nina Martin, Renee Montagne

“I see black women dismissed, abused or simply ignored by care providers all the time. I send women to the emergency department with severe post-partum eclampsia only to be given ibuprofen and told their headache is just from the stress of new motherhood.

I once had to call the emergency department to request a nurse to go take my clients blood pressure. She had been in their waiting room for 4.5 hours and no one had even taken her pressure. When someone finally went out to see her she was 200/110 and they had the nerve to ask her why she hadn’t come in sooner. She had been there the previous day with the same symptoms but was released. She then had an emergency c-section to save her life.

I believe the trauma of these experiences were direct contributors to her severe post-partum depression that she was afraid to talk to her doctor about because she thought he would report her to child protective services. I have had clients reported to child protective services for all manner of things that are neither abuse nor neglect. I could go on all day long. It is infuriating how the legacy of our nation’s deepest shame lives on every single day.” –Erin Blair

“It’s true that postpartum cardiomyopathy was first described in 1971 in Nigeria, which still has the highest incidence in the world. But that’s an example of how global anti-Blackness allows some countries—and select people—to languish without quality health care, not that Black women are somehow biologically doomed to have this condition.”

–Dr. Joia Crear-Perry

“The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the lived experience of being a black woman in America.“ –Linda Villarosa

Generational Trauma:

Trauma doesn’t actually change genes/DNA except over millions of years. But epigenetics–ie environmental factors such as racism which causes stress, and lack of access to good food (also caused by racism) affect how genes are expressed, which can change body chemistry, the way a fetus develops, etc. This can happen over an entire life. For example: low birthweight may be an adaptive response of the fetus to environmental factors like stress and pollutants–an adaptation that helps it to survive. This same adaptation may lead to poorer health outcomes down the road in adulthood, such as high blood pressure. A high-blood-pressure mom can then bear a low-birthweight baby, and the cycle continues. It’s not at all that genes in Black people are inherently “weak” or “bad”–it’s that biology is constantly responding to the environment—which is often racist.

“My anger, my bitterness, and my despair are valid reactions to trauma. Hell no, I don’t want to live in them constantly. It feels like shit. I’ve learned to selectively turn my mind off for the sake of survival. I have to regularly in order to create time and space for joy in my life. But the only functional way to eradicate these reactions is to eradicate the root — all else is a numbing, a demand that I don’t experience the natural human reaction to being dehumanized.” –Dominique Matti

Mental health:

“In addition to the mental health symptoms of individuals who have encounters with law enforcement, those who witness these events directly or indirectly may also be impacted negatively.” –Erlanger A. Turner

I see a lot of my friends and family in this movement running themselves to the ground in the name of liberation, particularly black femmes, queer, and trans folks.” –Adja Gildersleve

Black and elderly:

Critical importance of diversity in healthcare:

POC disability:

Emmet Till’s “crime” was being black and disabled.

Creative para-professional healthcare: