How to Bridge the Gap of Racial Disparity in Healthcare: Advice from Dr. Angela

By Dr. Angela Sexual Health

Brianna Taylor. George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Trayvon Martin. Rashad Brooks. Elijah McClain. The list goes on and on. Senseless killings of black people for no other reason than the color of their skin. I never dreamed I would witness modern-day lynchings. Thought those days were far gone. Tales of long ago; how things used to be in my parents’, grandparents’, and great grandparents’ era. Now it’s all over television. Social media. The internet. Black folks are dying and being killed in the light of day. What’s really sad is that we’ve become desensitized to it all. Black lives matter. Black lives have always mattered. Now. Then.

This isn’t new. Far from it. Racism. Inequality. Such has always been present in American society; since the days of slavery. Even with Juneteenth; were we really freed? We’re still treated as second class citizens in a country that was built on the blood, sweat, and tears of black folks. Judged by the color of our skin, not our character. Virtue. Merit. No. This isn’t new, just being filmed for the masses to see. Live footage providing proof that systemic racism isn’t a figment out our imagination, yet it still doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Is it really a surprise that racial disparity exists in healthcare across these United States of America? Racial disparity exists across all divides. Health care. Education. Sexual health and wellness.

How does one bridge the gap?

Acknowledging that it exists is the first step. Doing so is not a self-admission of being a racist. It doesn’t make one right or wrong. Taking the ego out of the equation and seeing something from someone else’s perspective would go a long way.

Following the golden rule. More simply put, treating others the way you would want to be treated. The way you would want your mom, dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparents, friends, etc., treated. Seemingly so simple yet so hard for a lot of folks not only in healthcare but in general, to adhere to.

Something as simple as respect. Actually seeing an individual. Looking them in the eyes. Addressing them in a proper manner. Not addressing a woman that is old enough to be your mom or grandmother by her first name.

I recall being a medical student and rounding with the medical team and seeing ‘Mrs. Jones’ in her bed at some ungodly hour in the morning; the entourage surrounding her as she lay there. Talking above her, about her, around her.

Addressing her by her first name though, she clearly was senior enough to be my attending’s mom. I would never address a senior by their first name. It’s not only too familiar, but it’s disrespectful; at least in my culture, it is.

Speaking to people, not at people. Speaking in terms that they understand. Black folks and people of color are not their medical co-morbidities; instead, they are humans with ailments. Feelings. We are all human. We all have feelings.

Leading with kindness. A lot of individuals don’t like to go to healthcare establishments as they feel they aren’t listened to, respected, etc. They may also feel as if they leave the visits “empty.” Specifically, not having a full grasp of what’s going on, the treatment plan, etc. Patience. Listening with your mind, body, and soul, would, could, and does go a long way.

There are many reasons that racial disparities across the board exist in America. Lack of resources, socioeconomic issues, fear. And while no one wants to admit it, it is The American Way. It is ingrained into American society. It’s the way it has always been, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

With all the change currently occurring in our nation, perhaps George Floyd will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Is America finally willing to take a long, hard look at race and the systematic racism that has plagued this nation for hundreds of years?

With all of the marches, peaceful protests, etc., will change finally be affected?

I’m really tired of Blacks being the only ones having this conversation. It needs to be more than us! Change happens when people that are in a position to do something stand up. Speak up. Yes, I’m talking to you, White people. If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. Even in all of this, I can count on one hand the number of my white colleagues and friends who have reached out to me to have the difficult conversation; most just pretend it doesn’t exist.

Volunteering in your communities, whether that be schools, churches, underserved clinics. Being a resource to others. That is how we bridge the gap. Stepping outside of your/our reality. Having the difficult conversations. Stepping outside of our comfort zones. That is how we bridge the gap.

Embracing the ideology that there are no big ‘I’s or little ‘you’s and that we are all Americans. My father always tells me, “Angela, you’re gonna learn. Until you get the lesson, it will continue to re-present itself.” I feel this way about the United States of America. America continues to try to hide its history. It’s almost as if we are trying to erase the past. It will not go away. Until we acknowledge it, embrace it, and learn from it, we will continue to witness tragedies such as George, Ahmaud, Trayvon, Kianna, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, etc.

Do you recognize the last two names mentioned above? They are black trans women who were recently murdered. Yes, racism and injustice affects this community as well, specifically the LGBTQ communities. Being black and “other;” in America, that’s surely a recipe for failure.

We must learn to see people as they are. Embrace individuals for who they are. It is our differences that add to our strengths. “We the people” includes ALL people, regardless of sex, race, religious beliefs, economic background, sexual orientation.

America. We are better than this. We know better. Let’s do better.

Dr. Angela