MLK Jr. Day: Black Healthcare Disparities & Organizations to Support
The medical system has an apartheid history of oppressing and taking advantage of black bodies, from Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment to Henrietta Lacks. And it continues to fail black womxn. Yet, there is a tireless force of organizations working towards the liberation and care of blacks for mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.
Below is a guide to the disparities that blacks face within the healthcare system and organizations as well as individuals’ efforts to support as a tangible way to honour of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy as opposed to non-supportive sharing of quotes.
Heart disease, stroke, and diabetes
These conditions are not only co-occurring but often ru through generations due to socioeconomic, physical, and mental distress. Around 7.6 percent of black women have heart disease, compared to 5.8 percent of white women and 5.6 percent of Mexican-American women, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2011-2013. Furthermore, in 2016, “around 46 of every 100,000 black women died from strokes, while 35 of every 100,000 white women did. And while white women's diabetes diagnosis rate is 5.4 per 100, that number is 9.9 per 100 for black women, according to CDC data from 1980-2014—almost double.”
2. Breast Cancer
Research published recently in the journal Cancer found that not only are “black women more likely to die of cervical cancer than women of other races, they’re also 77 percent more likely to die from it than experts previously thought.”
Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “When accounting for all cancers combined, incidence rates are highest among black (554.5), followed by white (499.7), Hispanic* (393.5), Asian/Pacific Islander (310.1), and American Indian/Alaska Native (293.5) men. Specifically as it relates to breast cancer, Black women have the highest death rates of all racial and ethnic groups and are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. African American women are diagnosed with lower rates of breast cancer, however they have higher rates of mortality due to breast cancer. The reasons for this difference result from many factors including having more aggressive cancers and fewer social and economic resources.”
3. Breastfeeding & maternal health
A mother’s milk is the most nourishing source of development for a newborn. Yet, the history of wet-nursing and the politics of breastfeeding post-slavery hinders black children from benefiting from this vital source. Thankfully, there are many resources in various communities and online that provide support. The leading voice is Black Mamas Matter, which is a womxn-led, cross-sectoral alliance working to advance Black maternal health, rights, and justice. You can support their efforts here. Other spaces include below:
Lydia O. Boyd is a dedicated breastfeeding advocate who has a focus in supporting Black families who are descendants of U.S. slavery
Kindred Space provides home birth, Midwifery, doula support, lactation education, and consultation by birth workers of colour
Black Women Birthing Justice, which focuses on just that: Black Women, Pregnancy, and Childbirth education
4. Cervical cancer
This is a disparity that is knotted within the painful history of medical apartheid. This abominable history of medical experimentation ranges from the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment to the still hushed story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cell line HeLa—the only immortal one—has led to medical advances such as HIV/AIDS medications and the polio vaccine. You can support the Lacks Family by donating to their foundation.
To learn more about medical experimentation on black bodies, read this book & educate yourself as you support the labour of a black author.
5. Mental health & lgtbqai2s+ issues
In addition to the aforementioned physical ailments that can simultaneously can lead to mental strain, issues of economic disparity and racism are constant contributors to health disparities within the black community. Overall, black people are 10 percent more likely to report experiencing serious psychological distress than white people, according to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Many forces are behind breaking this chain of oppression, which include Rachel Ricketts and ShiShi Rose, among others listed here.
We encourage exploring Therapy for Black Girls, which is “an online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls. So often the stigma surrounding mental health issues and therapy prevent Black women from taking the step of seeing a therapist. I developed the space to present mental health topics in a way that feels more accessible and relevant.” They have a therapist directory, which you can browse through for support as a black womxn and ask for support if you don’t have the means for this resource through Rachel Cargle’s Therapy Fund. For those with means, you can support this initiative through Cargle’s funding page.
Black femmes and non-binary people further experience this oppression, and Ericka Hart and their partner Ebony’s dedicated work educating on this subject is indispensable. Watch their Instagram highlights, listen to their podcast, and compensate them for their labour through Venmo at ericka-hart. Walela is also a fierce source for similar information and they can be found here as well as at Spit Justice, which you can support here.
6. Criminal Justice System
“Pick a social justice campaign from the last few years — Black Lives Matter, #MeToo or Fight for $15 — and notice that behind it stand black women, whose physical and emotional labor helped lay roots and build movements now largely considered socially acceptable or ‘woke,’” Lovia Gyarkye states poignantly in the New York Times.
Patrisse Cullors-Brignac is one of those leaders. She wrote a heart-wrenching account of how her older brother's jail sentence that occurred almost 20 years ago continues to impact her family today. This personal narrative that intersects the New Jim Crow system of mass incarceration with the overall health impact across individuals fuels her work in the Black Lives Matter movement. You can educate yourself by following her ad supporting her work by buying her book.
For organisational support, consider the Pennsylvannia Prison Society, which provides prison bus services, offering reentry services and newsletter subscriptions for current and former offenders, the organization advocates for the rights of those affected by incarceration, or Million Hoodies, which is a coalition of young people organizing to put an end to mass incarceration and the criminalization of young black men.