The (All Too Familiar) Story of Black Women and Their Health


The (All Too Familiar) Story of Black Women and Their Health

By Maya Valentine

My father used to tell me that we knew our bodies better than anyone. I knew that I wasn’t feeling well last week. Your body can say a lot about you, sometimes it’s in unprecedented breakouts or nutrient deficiencies. No matter what, it will definitely let you know when something is off.

Listening to the new irregularity in my body, I went to visit a doctor. I recently moved to a new state for an internship, so not knowing where to go for care was causing anxiety that seemed to exacerbate my symptoms. When I did find a clinic, I checked in, saw a doctor, had a basic check-up, and then was prescribed medication for my symptoms. This quick and simple care was something I didn’t expect - especially since I had gone in thinking I had a, potentially, bad problem. It’s been a few days, and I have noticed that the medication and recommendations haven’t been super effective. This whole experience got me thinking. Unfortunately, when Black women go in for treatment they are often met with this same feeling that they have not been adequately helped.

This experience makes me think of the unfortunate reality of our healthcare systems and the fact that, sometimes, Black women just don’t get the treatment that we need. Racial biases and discrimination in our healthcare system leave Black women to suffer from misdiagnoses and preventable illnesses. The levels that this issue regularly occurs on is unprecedented. Black women are 3 to 4 times likely to die from labor and develop cervical cancer (an easily preventable illness). This can be the result of several problems within healthcare such as: not having clinics in proximity to their community, not being taken seriously when discussing their well-being with health professionals, and being overwhelmingly misdiagnosed.

Although the gross representation of Black women who are sabotaged by our healthcare system needs to be looked at seriously by lawmakers and medical professionals, we still have control. It is important that Black women have a voice in their own health. Our voices are necessary for combating the health disparities we see today. Here are some solutions for the re-claiming agency in your own healthcare.

Call Your Representative and Speak about Inadequate Responses to Your Healthcare.

  • This is a really important step in the process to achieving adequate healthcare for Black women. I previously did not take this seriously until I recognized the value of calling and making your concerns known. Your State Representative was elected to serve their constituency. If you call and demand rights within our healthcare - you can push for action and accommodation. Sometimes this feels pointless, but remember that your voice matters and if you aren’t going to speak out for yourself - no one else will.

If You feel like you did not get the help you need; demand the help you deserve.

  • My friend was telling me about an experience she had witnessed with unsatisfactory healthcare. Her mother knew that she wasn’t feeling well but the doctors brushed off her concerns and told her that she was fine. She wasn’t fine and she adamantly continued to demand help. As it turned out, she ended up needing surgery that night. Remember, you know what is going on with your body and health the best. If you feel that you are not getting treated for the right thing, don’t accept “you’re fine” as a solution. Even if you are fine, it is better to be safe and extensively look into your concerns than to suffer in the long run.

Research and Take Action

  • When I say research, I don’t mean using WebMD to look up your symptoms and using that as a viable diagnosis.  I mean putting in the work to find out what kinds of health organizations and support-based services are in your community. This could be something grass-roots or something more established. If you have any health resources in your community - find out what services there are to actually support you in your well-being. This isn’t entirely related to healthcare, but you should always know where you can turn to for support when you feel like you’ve been neglected - especially by systems meant to support you.

For me, being more aware of this injustice, I’ve been more inclined to look up how and why women of color are so forgotten in our care. This is real life - and the most important thing to remember is that it’s your life.

Know your worth, know your rights, and know your body.