Why We Need to Medicalize the Effects of Racism

In America, the liberation of racism feels impossible. Although there is evidence that racism can affect health outcomes, it is ignored and unaccounted for. It is seen in how African women are three to four times more likely to die in pregnancy related causes than white women, or how they are more likely to give birth to premature babies with low birth weight, or how African women in America who have a college education face similar rates of maternal mortality as white women who have not graduated high school. It is known that genetics do not play a role as African women show mortality rates similar to those of white women; yet as immigrant women spend more time in America, their risk drastically drops to levels found in Africans.

How Cortisol Plays a Role

Cortisol is a hormone in our body that is released in response to stress. The prolonged release of cortisol into the bloodstream can lead to hypertension and higher risk for developing diabetes. Cortisol has also been linked to premature delivery in African women.

The testing of blood cortisol levels in black and brown communities can measure how they compare to their white counterparts with similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Medicalizing racially induced hypertension helps expand the diagnosis by including a root cause and making hypertension a secondary illness to the racism Africans face in society rather than a primary illness.

The Medicalization of the Effects of Racism

The medicalization of the effects of racism on health outcomes will benefit people of minority communities by making it harder for people to argue against the existence of racism if evidence exists that racism hurts black and brown lives.

Certain diagnoses like hypertension and diabetes come with social stigmatization and placing blame on the patient for developing this disease due to personal health choices as opposed to an environmental factor much like what is seen in the concept and theory of environmental racism. By associating risk of hypertension and diabetes to racism, health care professionals are unable to blame poor diet choices and to exercise habits amongst other things for the patient's risk.

So What?

Medicine as a profession is underrepresented by certain groups in various specialities, and the existence of this does not provide much confidence that there is no racism within the field itself. In fact the AMA still has in their textbooks that Africans have a naturally high tolerance for pain and as a result should be given less pain medication, which is a concept we now know with scientific certainty is simply false. The medical profession has the power to help solve racism, but, before it can do that, the medical profession needs to reflect on their own principles and eradicate racism from within before it can focus on racism in the community.

Thank you to Shreya Ganapatiraju, an incredible Guilderland High School student by raising awareness about the importance of the medicalization of racism in aiding communities of color by submitting this piece! If you are a high school interested in being featured, submit 300-400 words on a STEM current event of you choice through the form on our homepage!

Until next time, keep on that STEM journey.

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