Racism is still a foreign concept to the majority of people in and outside of America. It seems distant or unthinkable until you experience it. Particularly in the context of health.
Then you think,”dang it, Racism is a health crisis’.
My positionality as a Ghanaian living in Ghana did not expose me to racism until I moved to America. As a matter of fact, we do have our own prejudices of classism. And prejudices stemming from ethnic or religious differences.
Earlier this year, a Nigerian doctor made a comment on a facebook post that he “leaves his Muslim patients to die”. He argued that he felt Muslims were better off dead.
I am not stating these examples to deflect. Rather, to bring home to my Ghanaian or African readers a glimpse of what racism means. Nonetheless, this example falls under interpersonal racism which does not compare to structural racism.
What then is Racism? American Psychological Association define racism as an unfairly structured system that gives opportunities and value to people based on their physical properties, like skin color. This system operates on social/economic inequalities and power structures at a higher degree. It advantages people who belong to dominant social groups. A professor of mine hinted that “While there is a clear caste system in other places like India, racism is ambiguous in America”. This likely explains why racism continues to kill its minority.
I observe a fear about having conversations on racism and owning up. How can we reduce disparities when we want to pretend they do not exist. The author of “Biased” discusses that racism is inherent. And that white people are socialized to be racist. Clearly, this fact is a starting point to addressing and unlearning this repulsive behavior.
Unsurprisingly, I find it embarrassing that, health professionals who have sworn an oath to protect lives perpetrate racism.
I remember feeling numb, an out of body experience at the reality of racism. How terrible racism in health is shook me to the core. I apologize to particularly Black Americans for ever thinking that they may be overreacting on this subject of racism. The statistics are jarring and speak for itself.
Health scholars studying health disparities explain factors that are indicators of health. While they discuss socioeconomic status (SES) influenced by social hierarchy, location, culture to mention a few, racism remains a strong factor that explains low life expectancy of minority groups in America according to a study by David Williams in 2010.
Although we are aware of racism, it feels different when you are the victim. Yet another number to be added to the statistics.
But the important question is, Why should this be happening in “woke America”?. A “free America”, 21st century, heck , 2022 America. If Americans (black and other ethnicities) experience racism , how much more immigrants?
And now comes the best part. Studies show that, immigrants have a lower life expectancy rate than black Americans. Not only that, they also have 26 years to catch up to the life expectancy of black Americans. What else could be more frightening? So I suggest you rethink the idea that your family abroad have it better. Maybe, compared to people in other parts of the world. However, this illustrates why SES alone does not explain low life expectancy rate of minorities in America.
In this case, what we need is representation in health. Although there is compelling evidence that it is difficult to get a job as a minority. There is a also the economic factors that prevent minority people from higher education.
Still, Representation in health matters. Emphasizing Viola Davis statement, “representation is a manifestation of what is possible”. Here, minority can seek access to health care knowing that they can trust health professionals. Not only that, they also trust that these individuals will advocate for them.
The next time you want to give up on your dream , remember that we need representation in every sphere. To be advocates for our people in protecting a basic human need- quality health
It is time for individuals to unlearn racism. Life expectancy should not be reduced due to the color of your skin.
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