As she lay in her hospital bed hooked up to high flow oxygen, Moore breathlessly described her account of how a white doctor at Indiana University Health North Hospital dismissed her pain concerns and requests for medicine because she was Black, even though she was a physician. “He made me feel like I was a drug addict,” she recounts in the video. So, she left the hospital to receive care elsewhere. She died of Covid-19 two weeks later.
But that was in America? We do not face the same problems as “they” do with racism. Racism is an “American” problem, right? Wrong. Racism has no distinct borderlines.
The past few years have seen a growing focus on discussions related to racism in healthcare. The treatment of rapper John River in Toronto in 2019 and the deaths of Joyce Echaquan and Brian Sinclair have drawn into sharp relief the need to address the structural and social inequities in healthcare. Racism in healthcare degrades trust, reinforces stigma, and directly harms the very people it seeks to help. Moreover, racial inequity in healthcare can prove to be deadly.
Health inequities are not just statistical differences between the health outcomes of different groups, but rather unjust and unequal health disparities that can be eliminated or diminished through an antiracist lens, collective action, and political will for change.
Health inequity is rooted in European colonization, the mistreatment and dehumanization of Black people from Africa, and the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. In Canada, we, too, have a history of Slavery. Slavery was legal in Canada until 1834! We are in 2022, and still, the racist ideologies from these periods in history continue to drive processes of stigma and discrimination today. This results from structural racism that is still heavily embedded in our historical, cultural, social, economic, and political systems and institutions. According to The Government of Ontario (2019), anti-Black racism manifests as “prejudice, attitudes, beliefs, stereotyping and biased discrimination that is directed at people of African descent and is rooted in their unique history and experience of enslavement and its legacy.”
The way we think about people and the assumptions and stereotypes that we assign people have devastating effects, especially in healthcare. Racist stereotypes and racial biases about Black people are mostly negative and cause harm in how care and treatment are delivered.
Although Canada does not collect racialized data, there is evidence suggesting differences in maternal morbidity and mortality for Black women. There are also disproportionate health care outcomes for Black people regarding hypertension and diabetes. Health inequities have also been identified in reducing overall pain management, mental health treatment, diabetes, and heart disease. The COVID-19 pandemic also pulled the veil back on the racial inequities in Canada and worldwide.
The health inequities suffered disproportionately by Black people are our mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. Our sons and daughters. Our aunts and uncles, nieces, and nephews. Our grandparents. They are our friends and our neighbours. They are OUR people. We must add our voices to this conversation.
The first thing we need to do as a community is talk about anti-Black racism in healthcare and in general. We need to awaken our consciousness and consciousness of others and continue to bring light to this issue with deadly consequences. We need to establish anti-racism in healthcare as the “default” to care. The vision of healthcare and the future of our system is what we all should be fighting for. We need to seek out and advocate for “restorative and reparative healthcare justice.” We can achieve better healthcare outcomes; we need to talk about it and demand that our healthcare system does better. And we need to do this collectively.