I know that people living in Canada are lucky. I know the vaccine being freely administered is a blessing and a privilege many do not have, but we cannot blame people, especially marginalized communities, for the refusal or skepticism of it.
It’s no secret that several branches of the government have intentionally and willfully put minorities at harm’s way for years, with hidden discriminatory agendas involved. As a result, people of colour, especially black women living in Europe and North America, tend to have a general mistrust of the medical field. With a lack of minority physicians (i.e. black female physicians who better understand the struggles the community will face), and a scientifically confirmed implicit bias that exists in medicine today, it’s no surprise that many people would rather not pay the doctor a visit, even in times of distress, simply to avoid racist healthcare. Associate Professor Tina K Sacks highlights this in her book Invisible Visits, where she “tells the often frightening human stories behind the statistics about delayed or denied diagnoses[,] treatment and high mortality rates among African Americans” (Anwar). Women of colour are often dismissed, feel unseen, and unheard, upon expressing real concern to doctors about their health. This notion has existed for years, as “black patients are systematically undertreated for pain, decades of research have shown” (Swetlitz).
We know medicine has had a dark and tragic history of bias. We’ve heard the stories, like the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis, which consisted of unethical and abusive practices conducted on hundreds of Africans with syphilis between 1932 and 1972. We’ve lived to hear real-life accounts from victims of gravely unethical Nazi Medical Experiments. And so, with this historic knowledge, coupled with the understanding we have of the modern world now; how racism is a structure- rather than an event- that is deeply rooted in the system, why must we reprimand those who have been subject to this discrimination for so long? This discrimination that still exists today, that is not only generational but consciously and subconsciously a part of the beliefs of many on an individual scale as well.
I understand the need to protect your loved ones, the desire to return to a world before masks, anxiety, uncertainty and death. I understand the confusion and frustration one might feel when it seems we have been given an antidote that some are stupidly refusing. These feelings are valid and allowed, but to castigate others who have feared a system that has and still repeatedly wrongs them, and rightfully so, is unacceptable.
The only way we can reach a middle ground and continue to tackle these social issues is with compassion and understanding. At the very least, we must see each other as human equals, living in a system that sadly often prioritizes profit before anything else. We must strive to educate and level with one another, before jumping to conclusions about an individual without having the full picture.
Anwar, Yasmin. “Why middle-class black women dread the doctor’s office.” Berkeley News, 2019, https://news.berkeley.edu/2019/01/18/invisiblevisits/. Accessed 27 Oct. 2021.
Swetlitz, Ike. “Some Medical Students Still Think Black Patients Feel Less Pain Than Whites.”
Stat News, 2016, https://www.statnews.com/2016/04/04/medical-students-beliefs-race-pain/. Accessed 27 Oct. 2021.
“The Discrimination Black People Face When it Comes to Pain Management.” Healthline.
“The Tuskegee Timeline.” CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm Accessed 27 Oct. 2021.
Weindling, Paul., Villiez, Anna., Loewenau, Aleksandra., Farron, Nichola. “The victims of unethical human experiments and coerced research under National Socialism.” NCBI, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822534/. Accessed 27 Oct. 2021.