Courageous Conversations: Racism in the Healthcare System

By Sally Head

Each Month, residents of Stratford are encouraged to participate in deep conversations to discuss how to become anti-racist. These monthly meetings are hosted by the Stratford CARE, or Stratford Citizens Addressing Racial Equity as part of a long urge to bring citizens together to talk about racial injustices and inequalities.

The January 7 th session focused on the Health Disparities for African Americans and their access to fair and adequate Health Care. The 75-minute Zoom meeting, led by President and CEO of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport, Cass L. Shaw, introduced herself and welcomed the moderators and all participants. There is homework that is emailed out to all registered participants. Homework usually consists of articles or watching some suggested videos. The homework is not mandatory, but it used as a foundation and background information for discussion.

For this session the participants were asked to read a few articles, such as “Race and Medicine”: 5 Black People shared “What It’s Like to Navigate Race in Healthcare”, or “Myths About Physical Racial Differences”, and lastly, an article on “How We Fail Black Patients in Pain”. Participants were also asked to watch a 17-minute Ted Talk show on “How Racism Makes Us Sick”.

The group began promptly at 7:30 pm with over 76 people attending. Rev. Cass opened up the meeting and welcomed everyone. We were then led to watch a video from Ted Talk, called the “Problem with Raced-Based Medicine” by Dorothy Roberts. In this talk Ms. Roberts, talked about her confusion with answering a simple question such as. “What is your race?” According to Roberts who asks,” where else in medicine is race used to make false biological predictions?” She goes on to add that race medicine leaves patients of color vulnerable to harmful biases and stereotypes. Ms. Roberts continues to say, “the reason I am so passionate about ending race medicine, not because it is bad medicine, but also because of the way doctors practice medicine continues to promote a false and toxic view of humanity.”

After listening to the Ted Talk series we then heard an incredible, yet harrowing story by Lisa Michniewicz, who endured loss and pain because she did not receive adequate health care while she was pregnant with her first child. Ms. Michniewicz, an African American, shared how she asked to see a doctor because something was obviously not right with the baby. She explained that they refused to see her at the doctor’s office and they sent her to the hospital where she later found out she lost the baby. According to Ms. Michniewicz, that for many African Americans, the mistrust in the health care system is real. She expressed the need ‘”to move forward, to become anti-racist.”

We then broke out in the smaller groups (where you are automatically placed) where a moderator leads the group with probing questions such as, “What has your experience with the health care system been like?” Some responses in my group were that “they wanted African Americans to be treated with more care and to stop the racial disparities.” There was the topic of social economic status, whether you were light or dark skin, but how your socio-economic status, or even the type of insurance, can affect your treatment. There was the mention that “some of these issues facing African Americans within the health care system and their disparities is compounding the problem, making them worse, or even sicker.”

Another thought-provoking question was, “Why do you think health care providers ‘minimize’ black people’s experience of pain?” This brought out some interesting responses, such as “this implicitly bias according to one participant. Blacks and Whites are 99.9% genetically the same, meaning, our bodies function the same way: we breathe, we digest, we sleep etc.”

The discussions are always exciting and are such a great way to see and meet others in our community coming together to discuss some important issues relating to racism. It is also a great way to come together and share or just listen to other people’s thoughts about racism and the inequalities many African Americans still face in current America.

We then reconvened back into our large group where a few people shared that we all need to be a health advocate for an equitable health care system. The meeting ended promptly at 8:45 pm.

If you would like to join the next monthly session it will be on February 4 at 7:30 pm. The discussion will be Unequal Disparities. It is encouraged to register early so you can have adequate time to read any articles for your ‘homework” before the meeting.

To join the next meeting you can dial in 929-295-6099.  The meeting ID is 828 1441 2076.

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