‘Black people don’t feel pain’ is a statement that I and many people within the Black community have heard one too many times. This myth has affected our access to care and has systematically contributed to us being undertreated for pain. This stereotype is a hindrance, allowing medical racism to become more systemic.
It is a proven fact that Black people and other ethnic minority groups are not receiving the same quality of treatment as their counterparts. In 2020, 64% of Black Britons were reported as not believing that their health is as protected by the NHS compared to white people.
When I had the opportunity to speak with people living with sickle cell disease (which predominately affects those of African and Caribbean descent) through our client Global Blood Therapeutics, I was saddened to hear how their severely painful episodes were ignored and not taken seriously. This further emphasized the importance of my role as a Black health communicator; the stories we tell and the work we do goes beyond our jobs.
I’m further reminded of this responsibility this Black History Month, themed “Proud to Be”. 2020 was a hard year for us – not only were we tackling COVID-19, but the period also exposed how blatant racism, inequality, and injustice are in our society. I often found myself feeling lost and disheartened, but also proud to be a part of a community that wants to affect change through movements like Black Lives Matter.
Almost two years later, I still find myself asking if enough is being done to address racism in health care. How do we challenge these implicit biases and effect change? First, the healthcare industry must begin to understand that racism and discrimination is the root cause of our health inequalities and subsequent outcomes. Next, it must begin to address implicit biases and take responsibility for resolving the problem. Thirdly, leaders must improve and enforce industry practices and medical education that promote equality for all. Finally, they should create workplace environments where Black people feel safe and empowered. This includes challenging the barriers that stop us from achieving leadership positions.
As healthcare communication professionals, we have an important responsibility to amplify the voices of marginalised communities and do whatever we can to reduce racial bias, both in pain perception and treatment accuracy. Our pain is real and it’s time for more of us to stand up to challenge fantastical stereotypes and mistaken beliefs.