GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 1

This is a guest post by Nebat Ali, PhD Candidate, UCSF Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Program

The readings from this past week displayed the many ways racist practices dating back to the era of slavery continue to permeate our scientific and medical institutions to this day. The harm caused as a result of failing to address the racist practices within these systems can be even more damaging when considering the pretense of objectivity they’re presented under. We are taught that science is built on integrity and our practices are free of bias when in fact many scientific and medical policies are rooted in racist ideologies. It’s also interesting to consider how our institutions are built to reward these practices. There are scientists who have been able to build their careers on the basis of attributing disease outcomes and biological observations to race. This erasure of the racist policies and socioeconomic factors that drastically impact a person’s biology and wellbeing is incredibly damaging and only takes us further from addressing the true source of health disparities in the first place. When findings from these works are translated and applied in the clinic as a means to save time and allow doctors to see more patients, they can result in misdiagnoses and delay medical intervention, ultimately causing more harm to groups that are already marginalized.

As a Black immigrant the basis of these practices is something I’ve thought about a lot as my family and I navigate the healthcare system here in the US. As someone who also has the privilege of having lighter skin, I also think a lot about how colorism and internalized racism in the context of healthcare can additionally impact one’s health and wellbeing. An individual’s proximity to whiteness and the way that is perceived by a physician or healthcare worker can have a strong influence on the nature and quality of the care they receive. Furthermore, institutional race-based practices likely reinforce internalized racism in health care providers, further compounding the harm done to Black and marginalized groups as a result.

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