Lovell's Food For Thought - Racism & Health Inequities

Do We Really Want to Address Either? My Perception is NO

Dr. Lovell Jones | 12/24/2017, 6 a.m.

Thirty years ago I wrote my first NIH on addressing breast cancer in African American Women. In that grant I included a section on the impact of racism on outcomes. The grant was not score. In fact, I was told that it really was not reviewed. Ten years later I wrote an article for "The Scientist" entitled "Racism Has An Impact On Research And Health Care Policy." Around the same time, serving on the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Integration Panel, I asked this question - how many Black women needed to die before we really did anything to really address inequities. Guess who not involved back to serve? Today, Racism is now a topic as it relates to health. Let me just say, it has been a topic for years. The question I continue to ask is whether anyone(s) in significant leadership position be held accountable. Only then will we truly see progress.

Benign neglect, or ignoring an often undesirable situation rather than dealing with it, is an attitude with which minorities are quite familiar. Couple it with politics and racism, and you face a system that has been unresponsive to the educational, research, and health care needs of minorities and the poor in the United States.

Few mainstream research institutions or government agencies have addressed minority health in a proactive manner. Most take a reactive approach‐because someone pressures them, or in response to recent laws requiring involvement of women and minorities in clinical trials, or because they are trying to secure additional money targeted for minority health issues. A few institutions, such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, have

had a true interest in addressing health issues in minority populations.

This is not say that other effective research efforts dealing with minority populations are not taking place. On the contrary, they are. However, most efforts lack a clear focus on minority health issues. As a result, they have been neither culturally competent nor culturally relevant. When the staff of

a hospital deals with the health problems of minority patients without the training, insight, or sensitivity needed to approach these individuals,

efforts are doomed to failure. You might not see this as racism, but I do.

As a scientist who happens to be a member of a minority group, I am especially concerned about this lasting impact of racism and benign neglect on the health of minorities and the medically underserved. Despite protests to the contrary, minorities who act on this concern are generally

stereotyped by some in the scientific community as not being real

scientists.

The question is: Can you judge the content of someone's mind when you have already stereotyped him or her on the basis of race? Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall once stated that he had never been anyplace in the U.S. where he had to put his hand up in front of his face to know he was black.

He was alluding to the fact that lurking in the minds of many Americans was the idea of the fundamental inferiority of minorities, especially African Americans. This attitude still exists today, even in the areas of health and education.