By: Kherty Leger
Edited by: Zachary Sparks
The relationship between a doctor and a patient is critical for successful treatment. Doctors rely on their patients to tell them what they are feeling and use this subjective information to determine the best possible treatment for their patients. So, patients are put in a vulnerable position when visiting a doctor, where they are forced to trust that their doctors will do what is best for them.
What if, however, your doctor doesn’t believe you? What if they think you’re “overreacting”? These are situations that all people must worry about and, unfortunately, some people experience this more than others – particularly among the black community.
Black women in the United States have the highest mortality rate when it comes to disease and childbirth. A black woman is 22% more likely to die of heart disease than a white woman; 71% more likely to die from cervical cancer; and 243% more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes. The CDC has found that black mothers have a mortality rate of 44 deaths per 100,000 live births vs. white women whose mortality rate is 13 deaths per 100,00 live births. Why is there such a high mortality rate for black women? Why are they dying at such a higher rate than women of other races?
One of the main reasons is that doctors don’t believe black women. Black women, in general, have often been stereotyped as over-the-top and dramatic. They think that black women are overreacting and are making up their pain to get assistance they don’t need. This idea stems from an old stereotype called the “welfare queen.” The “welfare queen” is described as aggressive, lazy, and willing to do anything to get out of work.
There are arguments that these statistics reflect people with a lower income when, in fact, it is the exact opposite. A study in 2016 found that college-educated black mothers that gave birth in a local hospital were more likely to die than white women who never graduated from high school. These facts show that the health of black women is not being taken seriously at all.
Serena Williams is a great example of this. When Williams gave birth to her child by C-section, she had suffered from a pulmonary embolism (blood clots), which led to multiple surgeries. She had suffered from pulmonary embolisms before, so she noticed the symptoms and she notified the hospital staff immediately. However, they dismissed her claims as confusion from the medicine she was given, but she continued to demand that the proper test and treatment for pulmonary embolisms be provided (CT scan and blood thinners). They continued to dismiss her claims and gave her an ultrasound instead. When the ultrasound came back with nothing, they finally gave her the proper test and found that she was right. The pulmonary embolism led to a multitude of problems, such as her C-section wound rupturing and a hematoma (clotted blood in the tissues) in her abdomen. She could have died because the doctors did not want to listen to her even though she had experienced the symptoms before.
Systematic racism and discrimination against black women have caused many deaths that could have been prevented. Black women, time and time again, are refused proper medical care because of their race. More and more black women are turning towards home birth because they feel that they are safer and have more control over their health. Many black women are becoming doulas and midwives for this purpose. Whether mothers choose home birth or hospitals, black women should feel safe. Doctors need to focus on listening and helping black women when it comes to their health and needs. To help solve the issues black mothers face in the hospital, there should be a more diverse staff that is more understanding towards all races, especially for the black community.