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Improving Health Outcomes Starts With Trusting Black Women

Black women don’t need data to know what’s happening in their lives.

ISHA GAINES FOR CREATEHER STOCK

Try going online without seeing at least one story on the maternal mortality crisis or the risks black women face during childbirth. It’s nearly impossible.

Now imagine reading these headlines after being ignored—or talked over— by medical care professionals during your entire life. It’s inexplicably frustrating to witness the world discussing your struggles from a place of pity as you receive the same neglectful treatment at each medical appointment.

The society around you establishes task forces, increases funding to researchers, and shares the information on your risks far and wide. Suddenly, everyone knows you’re at risk. But they’re somehow oblivious to the role they play in the numbers because they never checked in to see what you need.

How ridiculous is it that during conversations about solutions for black women, there are none sitting at the table? Only about 6 percent of medical school grads are black regardless of gender and figures for black data scientist aren’t any more comforting.

That’s life for black women in America: the nation is making decisions concerning black women‘s care with no intention to include their voices in the dialogue.

The health industry regularly depicts racial disparities as a black problem.

The current framing paints “blackness” as an unfortunate yet inevitable risk factor. It’s not possible to imagine a disparity free world when the people—and their life choices—are the problem.

In a last attempt for assistance, “experts” flood the community with researchers backed by prestigious institutions. They inform the masses that black women are dying, abused, and traumatized at the hands of the American medical system, and are applauded for their interest in “ethnic issues.”

There’s a growing body of data that centers, or at least compares, black women‘s experiences in healthcare. It’s starting a great dialogue.

But a little-known fact is black women don’t need data to know what’s happening in their lives. And if the medical and research communities would trust or at least listen to black women they’d already know these things.

Whether peer review studies or well-known media publications acknowledge it, the black community has kept a thorough oral record of abuse at the hands of the healthcare system.

Black women are falsely painted as unwilling to participate in medical research. But are actually quite candid with those who have earned their trust. If you listen to black women talk in any environment that they feel safe and comfortable, you’ll hear stories of medical trauma.

As a healthcare writer, I’m happy to see more research that centers the black experience. At the same time, I’m disheartened. Our emphasis on researchers, particularly those who aren’t black, illustrates that we still haven’t learned to listen to black women about their experiences.

Since a concern for the quality of black life is a recent area of interest, these stories are categorized as “isolated”, “anecdotal” and without empirical support.

While wielding research and denying the experiences of black women, researchers expect them to seek validation in a system that’s abused them through the centuries.

It seems data scientists have forgotten that racism isn’t always quantifiable.

Data experts search far and wide for logical arguments to process lived experience into an intellectual format. Their attempts are in vain as race- a social construct established to uphold a false hierarchy- can’t be processed logically.

Charts and graphs can mark trends that can help us see the failures of our society that are laced with bias. But if it doesn’t include a trust for black women, it’s useless. 

For much of history, a lack of proof has been weaponized against marginalized people. Many argue that without evidence it’s impossible to understand how racism manifests in the lives of black women.

But black people have data in their collective memory; the world just isn’t interested in accepting it. Many misunderstand that this new research isn’t for black people, it’s for everyone else to gain a glimpse into our daily struggles.

Until now, society has lacked the concrete evidence to confirm those experiences, but that doesn’t make them invalid.

The growing body of research on what marginalized people experience in America is exciting. But it shouldn’t be a prerequisite to taking the grievances of black women at face value.

Research ne to supplement, not supersede, personal experience. If the intention is to develop a society that enables black women to thrive, society must learn to invest in efforts led by black women.

No trickle-down effect will be enough to eradicate bias from a system that was created to disempower black women.

Lasting change will require studying the specific ways anti-blackness has shaped black women‘s lives. It means learning the ways racism has transformed since slavery. It also means training oneself to see racism’s manifestation in the policies and procedures that enable bias to impact health.

Black women have always been able to mobilize, in institutions as well as grassroots efforts, for change without empirical validation.

It’s vital that this nation doesn’t leave black women to solve the problems that they didn’t create. Everyone has a role, but for many, that role is collapsing the system from the backseat. Now is the time to mentor, support, and fund black women.

Move aside so black researchers and historians have the power to shape their own pasts and futures. It’s not enough to know the numbers. It’s time we put in work to see the change. And it starts with trusting black women.