On the 12th of February, I posted about how societal discriminatory practices impacted health disparities for people of color. Research demonstrate the health implications are not a one off occurrence, rather they are passed generationally through the DNA.
Dorothy Roberts, University of Pennsylvania civil rights sociologist and law professor has a precise and powerful message: Race-based medicine is bad medicine..
In minute 02:32 – Sociologists like me have long explained that race is a social construction. When we identify people as black, white, Asian, Native American, Latina, we’re referring to social groupings with made up demarcations that have changed over time and vary around the world. As a legal scholar, I’ve also studied how lawmakers, not biologists, have invented the legal definitions of races.
Minute 04:52 – I’ve been told it’s based on an assumption that African-Americans have more muscle mass than people of other races. But what sense does it make for a doctor to automatically assume I have more muscle mass than that female bodybuilder? Wouldn’t it be far more accurate and evidence-based to determine the muscle mass of individual patients just by looking at them?
Minute 05:23 – Well, doctors tell me they’re using race as a shortcut. It’s a crude but convenient proxy for more important factors, like muscle mass, enzyme level, genetic traits they just don’t have time to look for. But race is a bad proxy. In many cases, race adds no relevant information at all. It’s just a distraction. But race also tends to overwhelm the clinical measures. It blinds doctors to patients’ symptoms, family illnesses, their history, their own illnesses they might have — all more evidence-based than the patient’s race. Race can’t substitute for these important clinical measures without sacrificing patient well-being.
Minute 06:40 – Race medicine also leaves patients of color especially vulnerable to harmful biases and stereotypes.Black and Latino patients are twice as likely to receive no pain medication as whites for the same painful long bone fractures because of stereotypes that black and brown people feel less pain, exaggerate their pain, and are predisposed to drug addiction.
Minute 09:12 – Dr. Samuel Cartwright graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. He practiced in the Deep South before the Civil War, and he was a well-known expert on what was then called “Negro medicine.” He promoted the racial concept of disease, that people of different races suffer from different diseases and experience common diseases differently. Cartwright argued in the 1850s that slavery was beneficial for black people for medical reasons. He claimed that because black people have lower lung capacity than whites, forced labor was good for them. He wrote in a medical journal, “It is the red vital blood sent to the brain that liberates their minds when under the white man’s control, and it is the want of sufficiency of red vital blood that chains their minds to ignorance and barbarism when in freedom.” To support this theory, Cartwright helped to perfect a medical device for measuring breathing called the spirometer to show the presumed deficiency in black people’s lungs.
Dr. Cartwright, the founder of Drapetomania a supposed mental illness that caused black slaves to flee captivity. Today, drapetomania is considered an example of pseudoscience and part of the edifice of scientific racism.
Minute 10:30 – Today, doctors still uphold Cartwright’s claim the black people as a race have lower lung capacity than white people. Some even use a modern day spirometer that actually has a button labeled “race” so the machine adjusts the measurement for each patient according to his or her race. It’s a well-known function called “correcting for race.”
These are all excerpts from Dorothy Roberts TED talk from November 2015