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Original image by Maxim Tolchinskiy, edited by Mady Rodrigues-Raby.

Confronting and Discussing Racism in Healthcare

Written by
Cheyenne Wood
and
and
December 2, 2021
Confronting and Discussing Racism in Healthcare
Original image by Maxim Tolchinskiy, edited by Mady Rodrigues-Raby.

Content Warning: medical racism, mentions of anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism. 

On November 13th, Lady Eaton College Cabinet hosted a Zoom panel of Race Issues in Healthcare. Panelists Mackenzie Taylor, a third-year Indigenous student in the Psychology program, and Ethel Nalule, a Black Masters Student studying Community Psychology with a Black Psychology and Multicultural Mental Health Emphasis. Each discussed the problems they have observed, learned about, and experienced within healthcare. The panel took care to uplift BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) voices in this regard, asking for anyone who wasn’t racialized to make space and allow racialized folks at the panel to ask questions first. While Taylor and Nalule spoke plenty on the topic, Taylor requested to not be quoted. 

The issue at hand is that for many BIPOC folks throughout North America, getting proper health care can be far more of a struggle than for white or white-presenting people with the same symptoms. Many cases of racism in hospitals have sprung up in the past two years alone, especially with the current COVID outbreak. It was in October of 2020 that Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous woman who was hospitalized in Quebec, recorded nurses making derogatory comments about her hours before she died. Incidents like this, whether it be microaggressions, mistreatment, medical gaslighting or outright misconduct like what happened to Echaquan, are a concern for many racialized people. As Nalule pointed out during the panel:

The fear of the medical system, not wanting to reach out for medical, mental or even spiritual health support, it’s so harmful. You see it play out within various racialized communities, in Indigenous communities and Black communities and you see it in South Asian communities, that fear of not wanting to see a doctor, when doctors are the ones you should turn to for help.

This issue was only further highlighted by the panelists, who mentioned that many medical professionals aren’t taught how to treat Black or darker-skinned patients. Nalule expanded on this with some specific instances:

One of the main symptoms [of Lyme Disease] is a bullseye rash. First, bullseye rashes don’t show on everyone and not everyone presents with one, leading to people going undiagnosed for years. On dark black skin, you don’t present a red bullseye rash. Any symptom that has to do with the change of skin tone does not tailor to people with darker skin, and that could lead to misdiagnosis, or even death. 

Nalule continued, 

Within how medicine is taught, how certain illnesses are taught to physically present on people is harmful towards dark-skinned people. For example, some symptoms of life-threatening illnesses include your face losing colour, or your hands. But because my hands can’t turn blue or change colour, I’d get dismissed. 

Nalule then went into detail, sharing her experience of medical racism in which she was ignored for 8 years regarding shoulder and joint pain. 

With such expansive racial issues in healthcare that can lead to misdiagnoses and mistreatment, one audience member asked what kind of change the panelists imagine is needed within the healthcare institution. Nalule answered hopefully:

"I would like to see the recognition of the history of almost every subject and almost every medical profession that exists, how it came about and what was erased. Who was studied in order to get where we are now, because I think that once that’s recognized fully and completely, then there’ll be more of a push for these things to change and more of a push to listen to racialized folks, for example in nursing schools, medical schools and mental health training."

With further attention drawn to racism in healthcare, there is hope that the changes needed will come about sooner rather than later. Still, as Nalule pointed out, the issue needs to be acknowledged and dealt with, instead of being ignored or swept under the rug. 

Recommended reads by panelists Mackenzie Taylor and Ethel Nalule: 

  • Braiding Sweet Grass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Michi Saagiig Nisnaabeg: This Is Our Territory by Curve Lake Elder, Doug Williams
  • Even the Rat was White: A Historical View of Psychology by Robert V. Guthrie 
  • Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Somé


 


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