Posted on Leave a comment

Health Check – An urgent message for young black men and women

Disparities in health between ethnicities is not a new phenomenon, it is as old as the enslavement of black, brown, and indigenous bodies. What some may not know is white American doctors were just as culpable in performing experiments upon enslaved bodies as the Nazis were upon Jewish bodies (Washington, 2006).  The emerging field of epigenetics suggests the results of the brutalization of black, brown, and indigenous persons throughout history has caused these disparities (Menakem, 2017). This brings me to my main point of this blog: If you are young and black, please monitor your blood pressure.

Kidney Failure spelled out with Scrabble Tiles
Kidney Failure (Davis, 2015). cc BY 2.0.

Last week I went for an evaluation to become a living organ donor to donate my kidney. I disclose this not for altruistic reasons or for accolades but because of what I learned during the process when I asked what causes kidneys to fail and the reason people need kidney transplants. The nurse told me that high blood pressure and diabetes were the main causes. A fact that I confirmed:

“Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Your health care provider will look at your health history and may do tests to find out why you have kidney disease. The cause of your kidney disease may affect the type of treatment you receive” [Emphasis added]. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/causes

The nurse continued to educate me that this was more common in Blacks than whites. Another fact I confirmed:

“According to Census Bureau projections, the 2015 life expectancies at birth for blacks are 76.1 years, with 78.9 years for women, and 72.9 years for men. For non-Hispanic whites the projected life expectancies are 79.8 years, with 82.0 years for women, and 77.5 years for men. The death rate for African Americans is generally higher than whites for heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide”[Emphasis added]. https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=3&lvlid=61

I was even more alarmed when the nurse informed me that hypertension was more prevalent in young black men then young white men. Yet, another fact I confirmed:

“However, the racial disparities in hypertension prevalence remained consistent over the time periods. These racial differences are evidence at all ages. Blacks are found to develop hypertension at an earlier age than whites. An assessment of US children aged 8–17 years found systolic blood pressures to be 2.9 mmHg and 1.6 mmHg higher in black boys and girls compared with age-matched white boys and girls. With the consistent racial differences at all ages it is evidence disparities in hypertension represent a lifetime consideration” [Emphasis added]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4108512/

In fact, the nurse told me one of the best things a young black man can do for his health is to check his blood pressure early, as it may save his life. And yes, he did specifically mention males, but I would suggest it is equally important for young black women to do the same.

References

Davis, S. (2015). Kidney failure [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/128573122@N05/17337390301). CC by 2.0

Menakem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hands: Racialized trauma and the pathways to mending our hearts and bodies. Central Recovery Press.

Washington, H. A. (2006). Medical apartheid: The dark history of medical experimentation on Black Americans from colonial times to the present. Harlem Moon .

Posted on Leave a comment

Are you from this country? Microaggressions and racism

Dr. Cook-Snell wearing a kilt (Cook-Snell, 2020).

I was in line at the grocery store this week and chatting with the cashier. She was a young Black female. She asked about my kilt. I told her I wear a kilt so people would ask me exactly that question and it gave me the opportunity to talk about my antiracist work.


“I am an antiracist, too,” she commented, “I’m against racism”.

To which I replied, “I’m trying to educate white people about their own biases and blinders to issues of race and white privilege. I do antiracist education and facilitation”.

She nodded her approval and then added, “I don’t think Trump is the problem, he didn’t cause racism”.

I must admit, this was the first time I had heard a Black person say something non-negative about Trump. I responded, “Well he didn’t cause racism because its been around for years, but he certainly has contributed to bringing the issue to the forefront because of his racist remarks”.

She changed the topic back to my kilt. Jokingly, I said I had the heritage to wear it because I’m primarily Scottish, Irish, and Welsh descended. To which she replied, “Are you from this country?”

This was the first time I’ve ever been asked this question, too. It made me reflect about all the times I’ve asked Black Americans with accents where they were from or Asian Americans with choppy English the same. It is a practice I no longer do and have refrained from doing ever since I started doing antiracist work. But the fact that someone asked me where I was from based upon appearances was extremely was eye opening.


The question appears harmless at face value, but in fact, it is a microaggression. “Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue et al., 2007, p. 273). It is a statement that reflects white privilege by establishing whiteness as the norm, even though, in this case, it was asked by a young Black female. The fact she asked the question may have been due to conversation, age, or many other non-race related issues, but it also reflects how she has been indoctrinated into the system of racist thought that is a product of the imperialism and colonialism of my European descended ancestors. Examples of this microaggression and others along with suggestions on how to ask or not ask a question are presented in an article by Ward and Premack (2020). The link is in the references.

I wonder how my cashier friend would have responded if I told her my full heritage of not only Irish, Welsh, and Scottish, but also German and African … funny, but you don’t look Black.

References

Cook-Snell, B. (2020). Dr. Cook-Snell wearing a kilt [Photograph] [Previously unpublished].

Sue, D. W., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. M. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271

Ward, M., & Premack, R. (2020, July 24). What is a microaggression? 14 things people think are fine to say at work – but are actually racist, sexist, or offensive. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/microaggression-unconscious-bias-at-work-2018-6#where-are-you-actually-from-6