There is an inequality gap in the wellness world and it’s hurting Black women. According to research, Black women face disproportionate challenges when it comes to access to healthcare and stigmas around mental health. Due to systemic racism, Black women have a much harder time being taken seriously by health professionals, despite the ongoing contributions they make to the wellness community. To understand the issue at hand (and what we can do about it), the Frenshe editors spoke to Dr. Thompson at Black Women’s Health Imperative about their impact report and how make structural changes to advance the wellbeing of Black women in America.
How can the wellness community be more inclusive to Black women?
The “wellness community” includes Black women, although they are only a small percentage of the content producers now. It is no secret that simply living as a Black woman in the United States can be associated with additional stressors. For those who recognize that their platform might be described in this way, strategic partnerships may be a win-win strategy to amplify the voices of Black women and improve the relevance of their content and messaging for all audiences.
Also, it is important to consider having some content curated for Black women and content created by Black women — and not just for Black history month or other cultural celebrations.
In your report, you mention rare diseases affecting people of color. What unique health challenges do Black women face in America?
There is no biological basis for racial categories. But the social and political differences that have been perpetuated on the basis of race and the effects of racism mean that the experience of disease is different. This makes Black women disproportionately vulnerable to many of the prominent health issues facing America today. For instance, Black women are 50% more likely to be obese than white women, putting them at higher risk of developing other chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
One of the starkest — and perhaps most longstanding — health inequities facing Black women in the United States is maternal mortality. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, in spite of the fact that they are no more likely to experience pregnancy-related complications.
Studies show that Black women and many women of color are often dismissed when they present with symptoms of disease and face delays in receiving diagnoses and effective treatments for rare diseases. When they do receive a diagnosis, many women may face additional barriers to care — for example, difficulties leaving work and family to see specialists in a distant location or lacking the financial resources to afford cutting-edge tests, medications, or procedures that are often part of treating an uncommon or rare disease.
It is crucial to emphasize that these inequities are not the result of physical differences between Black women and their white counterparts. Instead, they stem from drastic differences in social determinants of health that are the result of more than four centuries of racism and discrimination in this country.
Is there anything that’s underreported/underrepresented around wellness and Black women?
A major misconception is to regard the wellness community as separate from Black women. Black women are present and active within the wellness community. They are sharing information and expertise relevant to all women. Ignoring or minimizing their voices and contributions is the first area of underrepresentation.
Secondly, although many more people are recognizing the role of racism in health and wellness, they often assume that Black women are victims only. Black women sit at the nexus of race and class and in that space are developing creative strategies to survive and thrive. Many outside the community of Black women would do well to look to Black women for examples of how to do both.
Many Black women have to manage everything about their bodies from their hair, to skin color to their body shapes to ‘fit’ standards and rules set by and for white people. And this is more than a feeling or impression. Black women have lost promotions, jobs, mentorship, and other opportunities because of a hairstyle that is deemed ‘inappropriate.’
While such blatant racism and inequity in the workplace is discouraging, it also provides an opportunity and a venue to significantly improve the health and wellness of Black women. The Black Women’s Health Imperative’s Fair Work Initiative aims to address racism and gender discrimination in the workplace by equipping organizations with the tools to create just and equitable workplaces. Improvements in this area can lead to increased prosperity for Black women and decreased chronic stress, both of which can contribute to improving health for Black women.
How can we support Black women?
Black women are supported every time an individual or institution commits to challenging their own biases and adopting antiracist tactics in their professional work and individual lives. This action implicitly recognizes that it does not fall on the shoulders of Black women to “fix” racism or racial health disparities, but is the responsibility of every American. Present-day health inequities are the culmination of centuries of history and impact all of us. Acknowledging that all of us have a responsibility to be the solution is tremendously supportive to Black women.
Amplifying the voices of Black women in all spaces is affirming. While, for all the reasons stated above, Black women are disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes, they are not only that. Their expertise and lived experience create a space where solutions emerge. It is important to recognize that Black women have ideas, perspectives, and solutions that can solve their own problems and have applications across communities.