“We Shouldn’t Trust Death More Than ‘Our Heroes'”- Katherine Seto

Katherine Seto

Dr. Channon Miller 

African American History 

19 May 2021

We Shouldn’t Trust Death More Than “Our Heroes”- Fannie Lou Hamer

In 2020 America’s heroes were our healthcare workers. Fighting hard against the coronavirus and protecting those in the communities in which they serve. In a perfect world they would protect all people equally, all people would have the same chance at surviving and hospitalizations would affect all of those in the country equally. But we don’t live in a perfect world and those heroes don’t always have us folks of color in mind. 

Too many of us have been mistreated by white America and the systems in place. While topics like police brutality and mass incarceration came into the limelight this year black people are also deeply disadvantaged in healthcare. It is critical for us to work against the notions of white supremacy and all of its forms. We need to stand strong when they try to wipe us out and drown our voices. We need to be the change, or the change will never occur. The mistrust we face doesn’t stop with law enforcement or openly racist klan members, it happens on an everyday basis. When we go to the market, we profile. When we went to school, we profiled. When we walked into the doctor’s, profiled. 

A pandemic like the one we are seeing should affect everyone the same, black or white, brown or asian, all people should have the same effects. But it’s our brothers and sisters who are being exposed every day at work. It’s our brothers and sisters who have lost their jobs and are out of income. It is our brothers and sisters who are deemed essential and required to keep working while the white folks can stay home. It’s our brothers and sisters who can’t make rent payments and are salvaging their stimulus check while the white people get to buy things they do not really need. It is our brothers and sisters who were robbed of their future because of this pandemic. It is once again our brother’s and sisters who are dying at the hands of the white men. It’s our brothers and sisters who were turned away and left to die. And, somehow, it is the fault of us that this is happening. Not the government who saw this coming and did nothing, not the people who allowed the spread in our communities, it’s our fault. It’s always our fault. 

And you may say that the government doesn’t choose who dies and who lives especially from the virus but you are wrong. They have placed us 10 steps behind and blame us when we fall short. They say that it’s all our fault we cant run when they are the ones who broke our legs. They make it impossible for us to prosper and then blame us for speaking out against the disparities and issues. 

At 44 I should have known not to trust the men in blue, and I didnt trust law enforcement, but I let a white doctor treat me and now there’s no chance of me ever having biological children. A nonconsensual hysterectomy, someone who had no business making decisions for me made one of the biggest ones possible. And I’m not the only black woman in this country that has had her body stolen from her. I’m not the only woman who was forced to give up a dream because someone else decided my skin was undesirable. Back in the sixties thousands of women were and are sterilized based solely off the color of our skin. And they’ll twist and twist the narrative to make it seem like it’s all our fault. They’ll drown out the noises of our voices when we stand up against these doctors and say that we are not going anywhere. But these doctors couldn’t stop me from being a mother. They may have taken my uterus and the uterus of other women but they didn’t take my desire to raise my babies. And even though I didn’t birth them, they are mine. 

The disparities don’t stop there. It’s not just sterilization that works to take us away. It’s our sisters who are more likely to die from breast cancer, not the white women even though they are more likely to get the cancer in the first place. And when we go to the doctors they don’t listen. They prescribe us weight loss, exercise, and eating more vegetables- like that’s the cure for suffering. They tell us that we are overreacting and make us out to be the bad guys, when they are the ones who are letting us die in their hands. The lumps in our breasts are more likely to take us out than they are for the white women. You may ask how cancer is a disease and it can’t be racist. And to that I say it’s not, it’s the people whose job it is to treat it. 

Too many people of color, specifically black and brown people, have been profiled when they are receiving medical care. From the second they walk into the hospital they are seen as less. Their descriptions of pain are often taken with less gravity and they are often believed to have issues with substance abuse, even if they claim they have not struggled with that. Despite the mistrust of black and brown people’s pain “it is well-established that blacks and other minority groups in the U.S. experience more illness, worse outcomes, and premature death compared with whites” (Tello).  Racism in medicine is not a new issue, however in recent years these disparities were brought more into light; “these health disparities were first ‘officially’ noted back in the 1980s, and though a concerted effort by government agencies resulted in some improvement, the most recent report shows ongoing differences by race and ethnicity for all measures” (Tello). Despite healthcare workers taking an oath to serve all patients equally many people of color claim to have been treated badly by hospital staff and have experienced discrimination and belittling. 

How do you expect us to change the narrative? How do we trust the people who have hurt us time and time again. How do we move forward with our health when we can not trust the people who are helping us? How are we expected to come back in here and trust when they have never valued us and our struggles. How could we be expected to persist when this is what happens to us? Could you trust the person who took from you the most important thing in life? Could you be okay with that? Could you allow other people to have control when every time you have given them the reins they have hurt you?

When I was young racism in healthcare seemed inevitable, but I always thought that decades later things would improve, I believed they had to improve. But I was wrong. Now, my brothers and sisters are dying everyday at the hands of these healthcare workers. People say that it’s our fault, but how can we trust someone who has only ever hurt us? How do we work to remedy a relationship that is only damaged because we are black. I’ve said it before and I will say it now, I am sick and tired of having to hold on for things to get better for black Americans. No more waiting for people to listen, we will make them. They may try to drown us out, Biden may take a lesson from Eisenhower by diminishing our voices and trying to silence us. But we will still rise. 

It is 2021, today there is no excuse for explicit racism like we see in healthcare. There is no reason why abortion clinics should be more prevelent in black and brown communities. There is no reason for people to genuinely believe that we feel less pain. We are not animals, we are people too. We feel pain just like you do. When our bones break it hurts. When you silence us it hurts. And when you let us die, it hurts. Do not let another one of us die. Do not sweep our symptoms under the rug again. Do not let us go. We are humans. We shouldn’t trust death more than the people who are supposed to be our heroes. 

Every aspiring healthcare professional right now needs to think long and hard about the decisions they make and if the field is really for them. We do not need another sister with her uterus taken out without her consent. We do not need another brother to be denied the medical attention he so desperately needs to because the hospital staff assumes he’s on drugs. We do not need another one of us to die at home because the doctors let us go. We don’t need another person to be prescribed weight loss and eating better when they are clearly dealing with a much larger medical issue. We shouldn’t need to die to matter. But that’s living here in America as a second class citizen. That’s what happens when you are written off as less than the white counterpart. When they silence you, pretend to know you, and pretend you’re evil. Changing the narrative starts now, it starts with you. Don’t allow the white man to do the things they always get away with. Don’t let us be killed because of the irresponsibility of the white man, we must rise. We must persist against this once again. We will be loud, persistent, and heard. 

I refuse to continue to live a life like the one I am currently living. I refuse to be a second class citizen. I refuse to let this continue to happen again and again. What makes me worth so much less? Why should I be the one who has to die? What makes me unworthy? Is it the coily hair that falls from my head? Is it my darker skin? Is that what makes me less than the white man? I will not sit and wait for people to think I matter. I will not.

I may be black but before that I am a human being. I deserve the same treatment as my white counterparts. Doctors, nurses, healthcare workers I am human. I deserve the same things that my white brothers and sisters get. I should be treated the same. We  are still humans, with the same rights to life, and we shouldn’t trust death more than our heroes.

 

Works Cited 

Averbeck, Robin. “The Hierarchy of Stress: The Health of African Americans” The American Mosaic African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021, https://africanamerican2-abc-clio-com.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/Topics/Display/1656092?sid=1656093&cid=91&terms=racism+in+medicine&sTypeId=2

“Black American Women And Breast Cancer Disparity.” CancerConnect, CancerConnect, 12 Sept. 2020, https://news.cancerconnect.com/breast-cancer/black-american-women-and-breast-cancer-disparity?redir=1

Department of Health Services Master of Public Health MPH Degree and Certificate Programs, University of Washington Department of Health Services, https://depts.washington.edu/hservmph/articles/2070.  

“Fannie Lou Hamer.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/fannie-lou-hamer.  

“Fannie Lou Hamer.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/freedomsummer-hamer/

“Fannie Lou Hamer: Testimony before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention (1964).” The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021, africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1458449. Accessed 1 May 2021.

Malveaux, Julianne. “COMMENTARY: Fannie Lou Hamer Died of Untreated Breast Cancer.” New York Amsterdam News: The New Black View, Amsterdam News, 4 Oct. 2019, http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2019/oct/04/commentary-fannie-lou-hamer-died-untreated-breast-/

Marks, Laura Reid. “Fannie Lou Hamer.” The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021, africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1477364. Accessed 1 May 2021. 

Michals, Debra. “Fannie Lou Hamer.” National Women’s History Museum, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/fannie-lou-hamer

Monique Tello, MD. “Racism and Discrimination in Health Care: Providers and Patients.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing , 9 July 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/racism-discrimination-health-care-providers-patients-2017011611015

Starks, Glenn. “Societal Factors Leading to Disparities in African American Health” The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021, https://africanamerican2-abc-clio-com.sandiego.idm.oclc.org/Topics/Display/1656092?sid=1656094&cid=91&terms=racism+in+healthcare&sTypeId=2 . Accessed 1 May 2021.

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