Social Issues are Healthcare Issues

In 2018, I was sitting in a study group when a student in my class who had applied to prestigious universities remarked to my friend, “I wish I was a black woman; I’d have such an easier time getting into UCLA.” My friend sitting next to me, a black woman, looked at him appalled. He had a much higher SAT score and GPA than both of us, came from an affluent private Christian school in a Los Angeles suburb, had privilege, and yet he wanted to be black because he thought that would give him a higher chance of being accepted. As if being a person of color (POC) was an automatic shoe-in to becoming a doctor. If it were, then maybe more than 6% of doctors would be black. But sadly, they are not. This deficit negatively impacts patients and students. What he ignored by saying that was the struggles of being a POC in this country, the healthcare disparities that they experience, and the systematic problems that perpetuate these issues. 


So what does privilege look like, and how does it affect healthcare and POC?


Privilege can come in many forms, which can affect your access to different resources. It is having easier access to healthy foods, being able to exercise outside in a safe environment without fear, and the luxury of time (many minorities have to work overtime or night shifts to make ends meet). It is being able to go to regularly scheduled appointments like routine physicals that can identify things like cancer or diabetes before they progress to more advanced stages. You may have the privilege to remain silent because you are non-black, but you do not have that privilege as a future healthcare provider, which many of the women in this organization may be pursuing.

Future healthcare practitioners, think about your patients. It is imperative that we use our voice to continuously speak out against healthcare injustices because everyday we will be holding others’ lives in our hands. We need practitioners that are culturally competent, empathetic, and push for a discourse on health inequality and truly advocate for their patients. 


To those of you considering graduate programs, look at what those individual schools are doing to educate students on topics like economic deprivation, limited access to healthcare, and cross-cultural sensitivity. Universities are always talking about diversity, but when it comes to these issues, what have they done and what are they doing? This is a big indicator of the kind of institution they might be.


The Stats

Recently, I learned that your zip code is one of the most important factors in determining your quality and length of life. Where you live can dramatically impact the care you receive. Here are some eye opening statistics:


1. Black women are 4x more likely to die from childbirth, and black infant mortality rate is 2.5x higher than their white counterparts

2. Preterm birth rates are currently highest among black infants, but black and brown infants are underrepresented in early intervention services.

3.Many black communities live in a food desert. Zoning practices have increased the density of fast food establishments in low SES neighborhoods, while simultaneously decreasing the availability of grocery stores with quality produce. This means that healthy foods are overpriced, and it becomes all too easy to develop a poor diet, which inevitably leads to worse health outcomes

4. The chronic stress that minorities face due to long hours spent at work, combined with food and housing insecurity leads to high blood pressure and an impaired immune system 

5.Black children with developmental delays are 78% less likely than white children to receive the early interventions they need. Additionally, 31% of white children with mental health problems receive mental health services, while only 13% of minorities do

6.Coronavirus has disproportionately affected POC.


People who are essential workers (43% of which are POC) have been putting themselves in danger going to work every day, while wellness gurus and those who can do work virtually (oftentimes affluent white people) get to stay at home, protecting themselves against the coronavirus. This is partially due to discriminatory hiring practices that prevent black and brown folks from working jobs that may allow work from home, and grossly underfunded primary education in poorer neighborhoods prevents POC from qualifying for jobs that would allow work from home. People may say that the virus doesn’t discriminate, but the government certainly seems to. 

7.Black Americans are 3x more likely to die from asthma-related causes, and living in neighborhoods with more air pollution is likely a contributing factor. POC often live in polluted areas due to redlining and discriminatory housing, which has been meant to keep them out of the suburbs and confined to overcrowded, underfunded city housing


*In many intro to psychology classes, students learn about Maslow’s infamous Hierarchy of Needs, in which he theorized that there are tiers of human needs. Needs lower down in the pyramid need to be satisfied before a person can engage in the tiers above it. If POC can’t secure basic safety needs, how can they attain the higher needs like esteem and self actualization that can give them a sense of self efficacy and confidence in their ability to succeed in this nation? At the foundational levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, racial inequities are clearly apparent. 


How can I be an ally?


1.Educate yourself. Today and everyday. 

Enroll in classes that expand and challenge your point of view! Here is just a list of some classes offered at SDSU that I have either personally taken or have heard other friends really enjoyed:

-COMM321: Health Communications -POLS333:Politics of Race Ethnicity

-LATAM333:Race in the Americas. -GENS280: Intro to Civic Engagement

-COMM 371: Intercultural Communication -PH101: Intro to Public Health 

-AFRAS102: An Afrocentric Response to Generational Trauma

-AFRAS170B: Afro-American History from a Black Perspective

*25 free (yes, free!) lectures from Yale University on African American History


2. Recommended Reading:

-Changing How Race is Portrayed in Medical Education: Recommendations from Medical Students

-People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

-Unfair by Adam Benforado

-Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care by Dayna Rowen Matthew

-The Health Gap by Michael Marmot


3. Support the Black Resource Center on campus


4. Register to vote

One of the best ways to voice your opinion and enact meaningful change is to exercise your right to vote!


5.Donate.

As a college student, I know how hard it can be just to make ends meet sometimes. However, if you have the means, listed below are some amazing organizations committed to promoting equity and justice. 

-Unicorn Riot: dedicated to exposing root causes of dynamic socioeconomic and environmental issues

-Reclaim the Block: coalition that advocates for and invests in community-led safety initiatives in Minneapolis neighborhoods


I get so frustrated when I hear people say that they wish things could just “go back to normal.” Our “normal” is what got us here. What we are witnessing today is the result of centuries of structural racism and inequity. I think that if this year has taught us as a society anything, it is that it is screaming out that we are in need of a drastic change. Now more than ever is the time to create a new future--one where people of color are afforded the same opportunities that people with privilege have, and can thrive. The use of hashtags and social media without further action only serves to perpetuate the inequality that we are trying to change. While this doesn’t always come from a bad place, I believe that we can all do better.To POC,this is not just a hashtag. This is their life. Social media posts are a beginning, but they can't and shouldn’t be an end. What we post begins to matter when we start to listen, learn, unlearn and change. What we post online only begins to matter when our lives offline reflect it.


"Remember that consciousness is power. Consciousness is education and knowledge. Tomorrow's world is yours to build” -Yuri Kochiyama 


I encourage you all to check out the resources I've listed and continue to educate yourself on this subject so we can keep the dialogue going!

-Christina





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