By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
Oprah Winfrey’s documentary, The Color of Care, which aired this weekend on the Smithsonian Channel, brought the pain of being Black and needing good, quality health care, right to the top of a cup which is already filled with stories and bad memories of having received substandard care at their greatest points of need.
Winfrey was inspired to produce the documentary after reading the story of a Michigan man who died of COVID-19 after being sent home from three hospitals as he sought care after experiencing COVID symptoms.
His story was not unique. As the documentary shows, the stories of many Black people were the same. The susceptibility to the disease was dramatically higher than that for White people because of “co-morbidities” suffered disproportionately by Black Americans including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
As I watched the documentary, I wept. I recalled the story of one Thomas Duncan, a Black man in Texas who contracted the Ebola virus in 2014. Despite making repeated trips to the hospital as he experienced symptoms of Ebola, he was turned away – even as White people in this country who contracted the disease were being aggressively treated – successfully so.
So many Black, Brown and Indigenous Americans perished during the pandemic. The stories from families of loved ones who died from COVID are so much the same that it boggles the mind. The grief of everyone who lost loved ones to COVID is horrible, but the grief of Black people is worse because it includes the knowledge and/or doubt that the American health care system gave them the best care that could be given.
One needs only to listen to their stories to understand what I just wrote. The disparity in health care for Black people is not new; it is a part of our story. Everyone knows Charles Drew, the Black doctor, invented the process of preserving blood plasma necessary for blood transfusions, and yet, studies show that many Blacks are denied transfusions at their times of need, as reported by PBS.org. Legend has it that Drew himself died when he was denied a transfusion after being in a bad car accident, but that legend has been debunked, according to Black History, Columbia.edu.
Black people still suffer needlessly because of the disparity in health care based on race. It is a violation of the oath doctors take to “do no harm.” Ignoring or minimizing the health care needs of Black people is doing harm in ways society does not talk about. Inherently, those in the health care system know that the care that is to Black and Brown people, and the poor is unequal.
I talked with a friend who said he began watching the documentary but had to stop. It was too painful. What our brothers and sisters experience in terms of health care is experienced by all of us. To see and hear the stories brings the problem too close. Watching and listening to that pain is not unlike the pain we carry about lynching in this country, and the stories of our loved ones who died that way. Many Black families cannot and will not talk about it, and the deaths from COVID are affecting Black families in the same way.
My hope is that people who doubt the stories we tell about how our lives do not matter, even and especially in the health care we receive, will watch, and learn and think about how this very sad part of America’s legacy can be corrected.
It is long overdue.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. And she is an award-winning author for her latest book, “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America,” available through all booksellers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.