Race Misconceptions in Medicine

After reading Seth Holmes book Fresh Fruit Broken Bodies, no one can argue that colored and white people are treated differently in medical settings. Patients of color receive more skepticism and less quality care than white patients.

One of the facts in Seth Holmes book Fresh Fruit Broken Bodies that stood out the most to me was that 58% of medical professionals believe that black people have “thicker skin” and feel less physical pain than white people (ch.5). This “fact” is then used as a basis for supplying them with less pain medication or doubting the pain they claim to be feeling.

I did more research on the topic and found some even more alarming statistics. A study by the National Academy of Sciences surveyed medical professionals from around the country on if they believed certain statements about the anatomy of white people vs. black people were true. Statistics from this study that stood out to me were that 20% of doctors believe black people have fewer nerve endings than white people and that 38% think black people’s blood coagulates faster than white peoples. These statistics seem small, but we expect medical professionals to know everything there is to know about our bodies so they can provide proper care to everyone.

Here are other results of the study:

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This disconnect between doctors and colored patients is another side-effect of the structural violence surrounding non-whites in America. Jason Silverstein, author of the article “I Don’t Feel Your Pain: A failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities”, said that the issue is that white people unconsciously, embedded in them, believe that black people can withstand more pain than white people so they receive less pain mediation. He hypothesizes that this could be because white people know historically how much more suffering people of color face and therefore unconsciously see them as tougher and needing less medication. This reminded me of structural violence. It is historically entrenched systematic type of violence that no one person can be held totally accountable for.

Silverstein did an experiment where he showed a room full of people pictures of both white and black people in pain and then he analyzed the reactions. There was a much more dramatic reaction for the white person in pain than the black person. He commented on how the people did not have the innate automatic empathy for the black person in pain as they did for the white person. I think this crosses the bounds of medicine and also relates to things like social justice. According to a study at the University of Chicago, juries are six times as likely to incarcerate a black defendant than they are a white defendant. This all relates to the concept of structural violence we learned in class.




Chart of the Week: The black-white gap in incarceration rates

Holmes, Seth M. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. Print.

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