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Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, many have begun to look at the ways major institutions that still operate under systematic oppression need impactful and immediate reform. While all eyes have been on policing, we’ve ignored healthcare and its historically violent relationship with Black bodies. The global pandemic has also brought awareness as to how hospitals and testing facilities have neglected Black people. To have complete reform, it must be, like all things, intersectional. That’s why now more than ever it’s imperative we start believing Black pain and advocating for the rights of Black bodies in the care of our current medical system.

Black people must deal with disenfranchisement and disbelief in healthcare on the daily. Just ask Kyle Smith, Tahirah Austin and Ediomi Utuk-Lowery, the founders of Crescent Foundation, a non-profit organization advocating for sickle cell disease patients transitioning from pediatric to adult healthcare facilities in Philadelphia. The key for Crescent Foundation is advocating for sickle cell disease patients, many of whom are Black people who’ve had their pain ignored by someone with a degree, or treatments denied due to racial bias. The Crescent team is doing their part in advocating for Black patients, much like the National Medical Association (NMA), whose work raises awareness about the Black doctors and nurses who are stepping up to see and properly treat Black folks.

Make no mistake, we won’t have real change until we have groups like these advocating for fairness and equality for Black patients. But the fight doesn’t stop with sickle cell patients because racial bias unfortunately extends to every facet of healthcare.

Take for instance the treatment of Black women in hospitals, particularly mothers. Many of whom have reported negative experiences at the hands of their nurses and physicians. According to MiQuel Davies, Georgetown Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellow, “Racism disproportionately affects the quality of care mothers receive during childbirth … research has shown that implicit racial bias may cause doctors to spend less time with Black patients, and that Black people receive less effective care. Providers are also more likely to underestimate the pain of their Black patients, ignore their symptoms or dismiss their complaints.”

In a recent Tik Tok, white OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Lincoln gives an informative talk on the racial biases that plague the medical field to this day. According to Buzzfeed News, @drjenniferlincoln explains the gaping disparities between how Black folks and white people are treated by their physicians in hospitals. Her in-depth look at the ways the healthcare system is failing Black people is only further evidence for a serious need to reform. Many also believe that once the baby is delivered, the pain stops there, but if we consider the number of Black women who could be suffering from postpartum depression we’d find that the pain still lingers. This subject was also the focus of the season finale of Insecure. Shedding light on the ways medical professionals ignore Black women pleads for mental health resources.

COVID-19 has also made a significant impression on the Black community as well as the entire United States. Since the virus’ arrival, people everywhere have found themselves confined to their homes, working remotely and struggling to get proper testing. This is still very true for the Black community, as they continue to face racial disparities and lack of resources for testing. According to Vox, Black neighborhoods, like those in Chicago, are experiencing lower testing rates. Aided by ignorance and disbelief, states are preparing to reopen despite the rising number of cases in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona, according to the New York Post. Warned by leading scientists and physicians like Dr. Fauci, it is imperative we take the necessary precautions in protecting our immunocompromised people, but even with these precautions, it will all mean nothing if we aren’t treating, testing and believing Black people about their pain and symptoms.

The history of disbelieving Black pain dates to the slave era and the racist eugenics studies that stated Black people have a higher tolerance for pain than whites. It includes the truth behind James Marion Sims’ disgusting practices on enslaved women (that included conducting research without the use of anesthesia), and the inhumane Tuskegee prison experiments, where Black people were unknowingly injected with syphilis to study its effect when went untreated. Despite “how far we’ve come,” it’s clear there’s still much work to be done if we are going to close the racial disparities between Black and whites in healthcare.