Reckoning with the Medical Industrial Complex’s Hidden History, Resisting and Transforming White Supremacy and Male Supremacy in Health and Healing

Reckoning with the Medical Industrial Complex’s Hidden History, Resisting and Transforming White Supremacy and Male Supremacy in Health and Healing

[Image Description: A dark-skinned female appearing woman in a black T-shirt with a green Batman symbol sits next to a dark-skinned female appearing child with a white T-Shirt and pink beads at the end of her hair. The background is a turquoise panels. ]

[Image Description: A dark-skinned female appearing woman in a black T-shirt with a green Batman symbol sits next to a dark-skinned female appearing child with a white T-Shirt and pink beads at the end of her hair. The background is a turquoise panels. ]

Early 2018, left us shocked and in mourning from the tragic death of Erica Garner at 27, activist, mother of two, and daughter of Eric Garner. Mr. Garner was murdered in 2014, at the hands of Staten Island Police when he was pinned to the ground and held in a fatal chokehold. With his last breathes Mr. Garner, who had asthma pleaded, “I can’t breath,” words which became central to mobilizing the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.

Erica Garner also had asthma. On December 30th, 2017, four months after giving birth to her son, a severe asthma attack caused a massive heart attack which ostensibly took her life.

As we grieved Erica Garner, less than 2 weeks later we learned that internationally renown tennis star Serena Williams nearly died of postpartum health complications. Serena Williams’ case was particularly impossible to ignore in that it revealed how hard a Black woman of vast fame and high economic status needed to advocate on her own behalf to save her own life – which she had to do when she was literally having a pulmonary embolism one day after a caesarean birth.

Suddenly, a media spotlight was placed on the disproportionate health risks facing Black mothers and their alarmingly high postpartum mortality rates. In the words of ProPublica reporter Nina Martin, “According to the CDC, black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health. Put another way, a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes.”

The statistics above actually come from an excellent piece from prior to Erica Garner’s death. In fact, leading Black activists and multi-racial public health experts have been advocating and educating about this issue for years, like Patrisse Cullors, cofounder of #BlackLivesMatter and the late Dr. Shalon Irving, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she studied focused how structural inequality, trauma and violence made people sick. A Black woman herself, she died of very similar postpartum complications that Serena Williams in her own words was lucky to survive, and like Serena Williams, Dr. Irving not only had vast medical expertise that went unheeded (she had 2 Phd’s!!!), she had a known medical history that placed her at very clear high risk for potentially fatal postpartum complications. Her loss is beyond tragic and was preventable, yet no less so than the thousands of other Black women who have died unnecessarily due to deeply embedded systemic racism and sexism.

Many activists and scholars, such as Harriet Washington assert that this persistent and often normalized racism and sexism has its roots in the formation of gynecology itself and have dedicated years to exposing this. The ‘founding father’ of the field, J. Marion Simms, non-consensually experimented on enslaved Black women as his ‘methodology’ for creating both the instruments and techniques that are cornerstone to contemporary gynecological care. Given this history and US healthcare’s failure to properly redress it, it is not surprising that according to a 2018 report authored by Dr. Ashish Thakrar, of the John Hopkins Hospital and Health system, US infants have a mortality rate 3 times as high as other ‘developed’ nations. Nor are the damning and shocking rates of Black maternal mortality. This is largely due to our 20% poverty rates, higher than any other ‘developed’ nation.

As we enter 2019, public demand for healthcare reform and universal access is steadily growing. However, the discussion must go well beyond this. Healthcare must empower us to know our bodies and know how to care for our bodies, and it must provide for us the resources and accord us the autonomy to not just survive but thrive. Institutional racism, sexism and other intersectional oppression must be eradicated. It may seem impossible, but in fact, the solutions are already here. Hundreds of of testimonies collected by ProPublica from Black mothers that faced life-threatening postpartum complications reveal that women were always aware that something was wrong. A person should never have to self-diagnosis, especially after giving birth or experiencing a medical emergency. But more importantly, the life-saving wisdom they possess concerning there own bodies must not be ignored. Addressing this pattern of mistakes with fatal consequences is only as hard as ongoing racism and sexism makes it.

Please see links below. To learn more, join us in our upcoming course, Understanding and Transforming the Medical Industrial Complex.

https://www.democracynow.org/2018/1/11/as_erica_garner_is_mourned_why?fbclid=IwAR1e6g9UJuYgPXkKz3C-_7T8xK73jHD6L6N7aBkhkuDKxY3ld0UjyYWukTA

https://www.democracynow.org/2018/1/11/serena_williams_reveals_near_deadly_birth?fbclid=IwAR3V-Rwvg37jNp4Eo6M9wE2jPrmlsusjuo9IRjna1ckkDLaJUqET8jtMvPw

https://www.propublica.org/article/nothing-protects-black-women-from-dying-in-pregnancy-and-childbirth?fbclid=IwAR0DlpX0_ezpCqzHNYqgmCOX65ZsReST-E0APvXNyQF7VEBOPtcqUQomsyw

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/sports/tennis/serena-williams-baby-vogue.html?fbclid=IwAR16ZChO32X0FEzpskDyN7T-K117_ob8RGzRnaC0vHx8CJKE5owwx83bW5o

http://time.com/5090112/infant-mortality-rate-usa/?fbclid=IwAR3azJYH2VoQJIrd1Gk6exjfR6W3e0AihqsFAMgW2_vr-i1R-thFPTdKfyI

https://www.propublica.org/article/how-hospitals-are-failing-black-mothers?fbclid=IwAR1n8XbwLyvGl7d19lUazyaJOdlA1qcZEPIqm5bC1HOM6d-7Roy7AFZj1C4



Mordecai Cohen Ettinger