Trust is not given. It is earned. For too many Black women, a sense of confidence in care is not there with their doctors, someone you should trust has your best interest. However, for many Black women, that trust isn’t there; they feel like they’re not being listened to about their healthcare.
To understand why it’s hard for Black women to trust that doctors and others in healthcare are listening to them, we must look back at the history of healthcare—a history overladen with the mistreatment of Black women. Over the course of history, healthcare professionals have been complicit in supporting the fictional biological concept of race being a justification for the abuse and enslavement of Black people. These falsities also led to the propagation of racial categorizations in healthcare, suggesting connotations such as Black people having a higher pain tolerance.
James Sims was one of those healthcare professional tragedies. Sims was hailed as the “Father of Gynecology” and is still praised for his discoveries about the female reproductive system, despite his inhumanely inspecting Black women’s bodies without their consent. The stories of the operations that Sims performed are horrendous. Adding in the fact that he refused to use anesthesia because of racial categorization exponentially intensifies the unimaginable pain those 12 women endured. The contributions to modern medicine by Sims and many others continue to spread without mentioning the system used to get the research or notice of the racial biases that their work relied on and continues to perpetuate.
It does not help that representation of Black doctors is minuscule. Only 5.3% of practicing physicians in the U.S. are Black and Black women make up 3% of that small group. Most people find it hard to trust doctors, especially those who don’t look like them. When patients of color experience poor bedside manners and mediocre to subpar care, it can ultimately result in them not going to the doctor. These poor conditions contribute to women of color having the highest maternal mortality rates, their children having the highest infant mortality rates, and the highest numbers and deaths from other health issues such as cancer, hypertension, and heart disease.
Whether you have experienced unequal treatment in the healthcare system or not, here are some things you can do to further advocate for your health at the doctor’s office, according to The Lily, a product of the Washington Post: