As a black woman and parent, I've discovered that I don't trust educators, banks, the police or doctors, nor do I trust those who make and sell pharmaceuticals, because I've seen that black people can be abused and taken advantage of if we are not highly informed.
Having a child with special needs and a current health concern of my own, doctors have been my steady companions over the last decade, and it has been difficult for me.
I finally realized why I've been so skeptical while researching the newest headline on vaccinations and autism. A few recent articles suggested that the CDC had covered up tests indicating that black boys showed a higher incidence of autism after being exposed to MMR vaccinations than other children. Ultimately, I learned that this rumor was not true. But I was very aware of the part of me that was inclined to believe this story—the part of me that's eternally skeptical of our social institutions.
When I was a new mother with an infant who had been
diagnosed with Down syndrome, I asked my doctor to extend my medical leave
because I wasn't ready to return to work. I won't even begin to address how absurd it is that
we don't have paid parental leave. I will only
say that having a child with a diagnosis didn't make it easier to get necessary
time off work.
My doctor insisted that I was depressed and needed to stop
nursing immediately and begin taking an antidepressant. I insisted that I was
not depressed, but I was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of
parenting a child with Down. I refused to wean my son in order to take antidepressants,
and the doctor refused to extend my leave. Having studied the benefits of nursing
babies I knew that breastfeeding my son was important for his health; it can even help strengthen his mouth in a way that would support his speech and
I read about so many institutional problems where race can't be ignored.
More recently, I have been diagnosed with a breast cyst and
find that the treatment suggestions seem harsh and extreme for what are
considered pre-cancer cells. Again I've done my research, as I am vigilant when
it comes to the health of my family. I'm always interested in less invasive
healing modalities whenever possible. It astounds me that my allopathic doctors
at Kaiser Permanente have never asked me about my diet or lifestyle in
connection with this, or any other health issue I've presented. Without fail though,
they suggest medication, which I respectfully decline.
After speaking with two girlfriends (separately) who are
white, it occurred to me that they both had a confidence regarding
information they are given about on medical and
pharmaceutical treatments. Why didn't I have the same confidence?
When I step away and look at this issue it feels
crazy. All the layers of what's factual and what's fantasy get all knotted up
in my head and heart. There are so many moving pieces that paralyze me and even
have the potential to harm me and my family. When I speak with
most of my black friends, they share my distrust and fear, while conversations
with my white friends are the opposite. I can only say that my white friends
don't seem to have the thing within them that feels like they need to take
extra care for their safety and well-being. It seems like they aren't afraid of being taken
advantage of by mortgage brokers, cops or doctors.
To the credit of the conventional medical field, I do know
they are trained to give me medicine and not less invasive solutions. I also
don't believe this is directly tied to race, but to the industry and how it does
On the other hand, I read about so many institutional problems where race can't be ignored. For example, a study published by ABC
News Medical Unit in 2012 showed that black and Latino children were less
likely to be given pain medication in the ER and that they spend more time
there than their white counterparts. To add, black women experience high rates of depression compared to the general population and are least likely to report mental health needs to medical professionals, "thanks in part to a long history of unethical medical testing on black people."
One of my girlfriends, who is from the other side of the
world, suggested that my fears are likely based in some reality and that means
being vigilant is required. Honestly, I don't mind being vigilant. I don't mind
telling doctors to kiss my ass and doing my homework before I say yes to
anything they suggest.
But that's me.
What about the millions of people who
simply submit to power because they work long hours or are just too tired to do extra research? It's difficult for me to stand by
knowing the next black woman may not know that black women are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, or that they're not alone in distrusting doctors. A 2009 survey reports that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical establishment compared to 50 percent of white parents.
It would be a great
comfort to trust that people in power are doing what's in my best interest
regardless of my financial access or color. But the truth is, we're just not there right now.