Health care does not respond to the medical needs of Black women. Today, Forbes reported that Black women have the highest maternal mortality rate. They wrote, “Black women experienced maternal mortality at a rate 2.6 times higher than non-Hispanic white women.”
A history of racism has led to inadequate access to healthcare and Black women suffering from diseases such as diabetes, fibroids, and endometriosis. This issue goes all the way back to the inception of gynecology. In the 1850s, with few regulations for the protection of human subjects in research, Black women were subjected to unethical experimentation without consent. These abuses perpetuated historical disadvantages we can still see to this day, such as the maternal mortality rate.
However, Black mothers are not the only ones at risk. Black women born during Jim Crow also face a greater risk of developing breast cancer. In 2017, a research study led by Nancy Krieger, Harvard University Professor of Social Epidemiology, drew a link between exposure to Jim Crow and negative health impacts. At the conclusion of the report, the researchers found that “The unique Jim Crow effect for US black women for breast cancer ER status underscores why analysis of racial/ethnic inequities must be historically contextualized.”
The added context is that Black women are being untreated or untreated for life-threatening illnesses, and it has a historical component to it. During slavery, white slaveholders viewed Black women’s bodies and disregard their reproductive health. Black women were forced to procreate, with no or no self-agency and limited access to medical care.
Black women earn on average $5,500 less per year and experience higher unemployment and poverty rates than the US average for women. However, money does not play the greatest role in the disparity; race does. An NBC News article noted that “During childbirth, the richest Black women are more likely to die than the poorest white women.”
Really, Black women are at the center of a public health emergency.
Ultimately, it is the medical professionals who are responsible for ensuring that black women have access to medical resources that can help them to cope with their medical issues, to combat material injustice. In a TikTok video, a group of Black women in medicine gathered and each stated the role they play in saving lives. While representation is the bare minimum, it is surely a great place to start.