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Scientific Prejudice

Are black people predisposed to be less healthy than white people?  That was the question proposed by an article in TIME Magazine by Noliwe M. Rooks.  In the article, Ms. Brooks cites an example of a study that made the conclusion that genetic differences between black people and white people are responsible for the fact that sixty percent more black women die from breast cancer than do white women.  The conclusion is based on the theory that cancer tumors are simply more aggressive in black women and that white women are more responsive to treatment.

But the article goes on to explain that more recent studies show that there are cultural, psychological, and economic barriers to healthcare that cannot be ignored when addressing the differences in survival rates between the two racial groups.  Medical science has a history of relying on racial prejudices to explain away differences in treatment for black people.  Black women are more likely to suffer from cancer, but black women are more likely to suffer from a lack of access to the same level of healthcare that white women enjoy.  A black woman is less likely to get screened for cancer until the disease is further along its progression and more entrenched.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that there are other factors involved that will contribute to differences between black and white people.

The article gave another example of a study conducted by Lundy Braun where medical science has made the widely accepted assumption that black people have a more inefficient lung function that white people simply because they are black.  The belief is that there is a ten to fifteen percent efficiency deficit for black people.  Consequently, when black people seek help for a problem with breathing, they have to be fifteen percent sicker than their white counterparts in order to be treated.  To add insult to injury, a black person would have to settle for fifteen percent less lung function simply because doctors have been trained to accept lower standards when the patient is black.

Black people have to be sicker in order to gain treatment.  And when the treatment does come, black people are forced to settle for a lower health threshold in order to be declared healthy.

Now it is understandable that different people will have different lung capacity.  People with a smaller chest cavity may have less lung capacity than people with a larger chest cavity because a larger chest cavity means that lungs should have more room to expand.  That’s understandable.  Older people may be more likely to have less capacity than younger people of the same size and shape.  That’s understandable.  Somebody who exercises by running regularly is more likely to have more lung capacity than a couch potato of the same size and shape.  Somebody who smokes cigarettes regularly will have less lung capacity than somebody who doesn’t smoke.  But how does skin color impact the function of the lungs?

Like a lot of things in our modern society, healthcare does not operate in an environment immune from America’s inherent racism.  Sure we can grab a couple of black people and a couple of white people, do a study on the two and then use that information to explain the differences between black people and white people.  But the accuracy of such a study would be suspect simply because the test sample would be far too small to account for all the variables that could impact data results.  What was the health of the samples prior to the study?  Was this a fair comparison of similar people or were there significant differences in the two group’s socioeconomic status?

Like a lot of things in America, healthcare depends on race.  If the lung capacity is any indication, all things being equal white people are more likely to be treated quicker if there was a drop in health, and would be treated to a healthier level than black people simply because they are white.  Is this any different than white people getting better access to education, jobs, legal justice, government representation, and the like?  We can always look at somebody’s skin color and make the conclusion that if the person is black he or she are inherently inferior and consequently we do not have to do as much for them.  It is a system of separation that is totally unequal.

Such racial prejudice is justified as simply as the condition of being black.  It ranks right up there with the fact that our country’s forefathers writing into the Constitution that black people are only worth sixty percent human and therefore constitutionally inferior to white people.  Then we wonder why so many black people are treated as second class citizens.  It ranks right up there with law enforcement cracking down on black people because by cracking down on black people they arrest more black people.  Then we wonder why so many black people go to jail.

If we say black people are less healthy than white people simply because they are black the result will be that black people will be less healthy than white people.  If true wealth is in one’s health, black people are getting screwed yet again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Life, Racism, Thoughts


  1. This is a complicated area and what you say is true. But there are genetic differences too; for example it makes no sense to test a Swede for sickle cells. There are some other things as well; my understanding is that the set of heart attack symptoms is somewhat different for those with Africans than for non-Africans. So I don’t want people getting inferior care because the science is forced to a “one-size-fits-all” conclusion.

    Then of course, there is some truth to the “race is skin deep” too; imagine my shock that, as a brown guy who is of Mexican heritage, I found that I have European haplotypes on both my maternal and paternal lineage!

    So I guess what I am trying to say is that our genetic make up does influence things like medical symptoms, though you are correct that social and environmental factors also loom large, and ferreting them out is complicated stuff.

    Comment by blueollie | Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback blueollie,

      We’re not talking about a “one size fits all” condition. We’re talking about race biased health standards. While Swedes may not have a proclivity for sickle cell, everybody has lungs. There’s no reason to think that black people have a naturally “sicker” condition simply because they’re black. If a white person ever did come down with sickle cell I’m sure they’ll get treatment as soon as its detected and not have to wait until they suffer to an unhealthier level than their black counterparts.


      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Wednesday, June 13, 2012 | Reply

  2. Racism is not going away until AFTER the second chance; so the more lies that are told the more truth has to shut it down!!!!

    Comment by Kim Brown | Wednesday, June 13, 2012 | Reply

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