My Turn: Racism is killing me every day

Published: 11/10/2021 6:40:27 AM

As a Black woman, I am twice as likely as a white person to die of COVID-19. I also have high blood pressure and asthma, two conditions that occur at higher rates in Black Americans. Those medical conditions contribute to my odds of having a fatal outcome if I contract COVID-19.

The irony is that my medical treatment to date for these conditions is also statistically subpar to my white counterparts, thus increasing my chances of dying. The health disparities between Black Americans and white Americans is one of the many instances of systemic racism that I personally experience that continue to exhaust me on a daily basis.

In the past few months, I have reached my limit for the enormous, crippling amount of emotional fatigue and despair at the equity gaps between Black Americans and white Americans in every measurable scale. Every day I see a Black missing child being searched for by their desperate mother on Facebook because America likes to focus its outrage and resources on missing white children, preferably blond.

Every day I see a story about another Black person harassed by white people who feel deputized by the previous administration to remind non-whites that Jim Crow is still alive and well across this country.

Every day I sit in my car trying to muster up the emotional energy I need to face that day’s unexpected microaggressions, and every night I lie in bed and feel drained from the effort of putting one foot in front of the other to wade through a haze of constant, unrelenting overt and covert racism.

My health has suffered, as the health of Black Americans stretching back to slavery times suffered and suffers, and I am angry that the price of enduring our own disenfranchisement and mistreatment is poor health outcomes and potentially earlier death. If they don’t kill us outright, they manage to do it by literally wearing us down and wearing us out. The unrelenting stress and anguish shortens Black lives. Life expectancy for Black Americans is measurably lower than for white Americans.

Mary-Frances Winters is a Black author who wrote the book “Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit.” In the chapter entitled “Racism Literally Makes You Sick: It is a Preexisting Condition,” she lists dozens of facts about the shocking disparities between medical treatments and health outcomes between Black Americans and white Americans. All of them outraged me: here is the proof of why I am so exhausted emotionally, backed up by 23 pages of single-spaced references that confirm that we have a right to feel fatigued.

She lists multiple tragic outcomes from pregnancy and childbirth, such as this horrifying statistic: Black women are 243% more likely than white women to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes.

How is this possible? It seems artificially inflated. However, I myself fainted dead away in the shower shortly after the birth of my firstborn at a local hospital back in 2000, because I had been told to take a shower by the nurse, who then left me alone to fend for myself. Once I was in the shower, I became dizzy and passed out, terrifying my mother who was in the chair in the next room holding the baby. Luckily my husband at the time was also in the next room and was able to pull the emergency cord to summon nurses. I awoke to many nurses crowded around me, shouting my name, waving smelling salts under my nose, as I lay slumped in the tub that now looked like a bloody crime scene.

I thought this was simply a normal occurrence, until I was able to compare notes with my white friend who also had a baby at the same hospital three weeks earlier. She was shocked by my story, and told me that after she gave birth, the nurse stayed in the bathroom with her and assisted her the entire time she was in the shower. “She practically soaped me up herself,” she said.

When I asked if she had had any complications with her birth that might have led to her being watched more closely, she said no. It took me even more years to finally realize that although I was told that I could go take a shower alone, the standard advice is that no one who has just given birth should be taking a shower alone.

Why was I left alone? Was it because as a Black woman, I was considered stronger than a white woman and thought to require less medical attention? Black people are habitually undertreated for pain due to documented racial bias from medical professionals. This bias causes Black people to be undertreated in general for medical situations (thus leading to that high mortality rate for Black mothers) because we are viewed as having a higher pain tolerance while conversely being viewed at attention- (or drug-) seeking when pain is reported. Doctors report holding beliefs that Black skin is thicker than white skin, and that Black people are not the same physiologically and therefore do not require the same level of medical attention.

The fact that these biased presumptions held by trained medical professionals originated centuries ago to justify abusing and killing enslaved Blacks adds to my feeling of exhaustion.

The fact that racist biases and beliefs perpetuated for hundreds of years actively contributes to my poorer health, my inadequate medical treatment, and ultimately will likely lead to my premature death, while those who hold these racist biases will likely outlive me, is the very definition of adding insult to injury. Knowing this kills me.

Tolley M. Jones lives in Easthampton. She writes a monthly column for the Gazette. She can be reached at columnist@gazettenet.com.

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