Sunday, July 13, 2008

It's Not All In Our Heads

The American Medical Association has apologized for 100 years of racism. I heard the report last week as I drove to get some gas. What was my reaction? The first reaction was, "Maybe there are some people who will finally believe that it's not all in our imagination!"

Imagine that: The AMA makes an explicit admission, that for 100 years, African-American doctors were either purposely barred from admission, their concerns for the medical care for their people were marginalized by the larger organization. Collaterally it means that all other aspects of health disparity, including health care access, were not shown the seriousness they deserved.

What did that mean for 100 years? How much of what we know now about health care and the African American community could have been prevented? Consider these facts:

The prevalence of diabetes among African Americans is about 70% higher than among white Americans.

Infant mortality rates are twice as high for African Americans as for white Americans.

The 5-year survival rate for cancer among African Americans diagnosed for 1986-1992 was about 44%, compared with 59% for white Americans.

What if more Black students had been steered toward the study of medicine as a profession to care for Black patients so that they would have doctors with whom they could identify and who knew the culture of our community - the fears, the apprehensions and superstitions regarding medicine.

Its not to say that some white doctors and doctors of other races and ethnicities were not sensitive, but to have a doctor that looked like you could have made helped make revolutionary strides in health outcomes in the Black community. And the AMA has admitted it.

To their credit, the AMA has done more than make the admission, they are taking steps to correct their error. Outreach among young African Americans to encourage them to think about careers in medicine. "The AMA is committed to improving its relationship with minority physicians and to increasing the ranks of minority physicians so that the workforce accurately represents the diversity of America’s patients." says AMA Immediate-Past President, Dr. Ronald M. Davis.

But this is not just about the AMA. If this is true about an association of physicians, what other areas of our society is it true about. What about political parties? What about labor unions? What about main stream denominations? What about Fortune 500 companies? All of those organizations and constituences from whom there have been no apologies and from whom none are forthcoming and from whom no intentional corrective is even being offered?

Neither the admission, or the apology from the American Medical Association can erase 100 years of damage. But it provides a legitimate starting point for beginning again. But more importantly, for those who say that issues of poverty, racism, substandard education and blighted communities, marginalization and suffering are a part of some collective victim complex, it says that it's not in our head, its not in our imagination.

It's real. And we as a country can never seriously move forward until it is admitted and until there is some serious effort to make amends. A people who've experienced oppression can understand falling short of perfection in that regard, but what has always been hard to deal with is the idea that our experience is a figment of our imagination.

Here's the link for the AMA press release:

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