The longer I write about health-related topics, the more I am astounded about the number of disparities in certain racial groups. As an African American (or Black) woman, I have an undercurrent of anxiety as I read about my group being 400% more likely to die in childbirth, have higher rates of heart attack, greater likelihood to have delayed diagnosis of cancer, and be more likely to die from asthma.
There are many things about my culture that make me smile, make me proud. When it comes to health and medicine, I bounce from feelings of sadness to anger and back again.
There are environmental factors such as groups of people of color who live in areas with poor air quality. In some cases, a lack of research can be a factor. I don’t want to discount personal responsibility. However, when you add up systemic challenges that are deeply baked (why are we only now getting medical illustrations featuring people of color, for example) into health care, even those who take a lot of active care in their health can become victims of things outside of their control.
The last thing someone with asthma (or anyone) wants to feel is out of control. It is a condition that literally takes your breath away – the thing that separates alive from not alive. To have a health condition where you’re out of control and be surrounded by a health system that often feels uncontrolled when it comes to people of color can be incredibly disheartening.
So what do I tell myself and other people of color who have asthma?
First, I encourage everyone to take an active role in their health. Be your own advocate. If something doesn’t feel right or sound right, continue to work to find the answers. Talk to a doctor. Culturally, many Black people are often distrustful of doctors because of unethical things (think Tuskegee experiment, Henrietta Lacks, and early gynecological experiments) that have happened throughout history. But we have to push past these facts to get the help we need.
Second, medical professionals are trained in numerous areas of health and medicine. However, they are human. They get tired. They can have bias. They can see someone of their own racial background and feel a stronger sense of compassion. They can miss things. They are not God. That said, I am never afraid to get a second opinion or really press with questions if I’m concerned about how a doctor may respond to my health issue at the moment. If I don’t feel a doctor truly cares about my asthma (or any health issue), I change doctors. It’s as simple as that for me.
Lastly, I remember my worth. I’ve had more than one doctor say that they didn’t suggest a particular test or treatment because of “the cost.” Well … only I know my bank account and how I prioritize my health. There is no doctor who can tell me whether something is too expensive when it comes to my health. If I know I’m not feeling great and need a few extra days of rest, I ask for a doctor’s note. If I’m in pain, I am upfront and request treatments to help. If my breathing isn’t good, I speak up. Only I can describe how I feel. If I need more support. I don’t stiff-upper-lip my health. I think many people of color (myself included) have paid the price for staying quiet. Our health matters, and so does our voice.
Photo Credit: Delmaine Donson / E+ via Getty Images
Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.
Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.