Editor’s Note: This article was made possible by the International Center for Journalists’ Community Health Reporting Fellowship and is a part of an ongoing series on Race, Gender and Medicine in America.
By Ann-Marie Adams
Connecticut has the highest infant mortality rate for black babies.
That’s according to the state’s own 2009 health disparities report, which reveals consistently higher infant mortality rates than white and Hispanic infants.
The infant mortality rate represents the number of deaths among babies under one year old per 1,000 births. The latest report shows the number of deaths for black babies between 2001 and 2005 was 314 or 13 percent compared to Hispanics with 251 or 6.5 percent, or Whites with 515 or 3.9 percent.
Naturally, someone should ask why there’s such a high death rate among black babies in Connecticut. Is it caused by improper nutrients from food desserts in urban areas? Or is it a systematic attempt—unmitigated long after the infamous Tuskegee experiment—to harm black people in America? Many so-called Third World countries do not have such high infant mortality rates. So I’m leaning toward the latter, considering socio-economic factors that are already impacting the black family.
Before you get your panties in a bunch, consider the history of race and medicine in America. If you do, you will contextualize the contemporary conditions and see that this is not an alarmist approach to scant evidence. It’s a singular theory based on American history and years of research that have produced enough facts to examine this crisis.
According to The Hartford Guardian’s own investigation of Greater Hartford-area hospitals, doctors are more willing to prescribe medications that damage black women’s reproductive organs. The atrocity of substandard healthcare for many black women can be in the form of benign neglect in a hospital emergency room to egregious malpractice such as forcing medications against will—a common and often criminal–practice at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living. The most popular culprit is Risperidone, which seeps into breast milk and enlarges breasts.
Besides robbing many black women of their breast milk, Risperidone contributes to the mammification of the black woman’s body. It’s the most frightening side effect of this drug known to cause death. Similar steroidal and non-steroidal medications include cyclobenzprine, hydrocodon-acetaminophn, methylprednisolone, cogentin, gabapenten and haldol. Many cause hyper-lactatemia, a fancy word for inflating a woman’s breast with deadly toxins.
The problem is not just in Connecticut, however. This also occurs at the Maryland-based National Institutes of Health, where doctors recruit women to use experimental drugs that cause harm to their reproductive system and then send them off to deal with the later consequences of an unknown drug.
Black men also face similar harm with pills that decrease libido or contribute to erectile dysfunction. But this story about the health industry makes a sharp departure from the overall black experience when we look at the intersection of race, gender and medicine.
The syphilis experiment from 1932 to 1972 by the U.S. Health Service generated national outrage and is well-known around the world. The lesser known experiments of black women like Henrietta Lacks did not cause an uproar.
This makes me want to scream.
Consider this: Black women are more likely to die of heart failure, cancer, and other diseases because of deficient medical care. They are also more likely to have uterine fibroids, which are commonly associated with stress. The confluence of stressors is attributed to socio-economic conditions. For example, black women are three times more likely than white women to be unemployed. And though you have gender inequality among wage earners, black women earn 70 cents on the dollar for the same work as other workers.
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Perhaps President Barack Obama, who benefited from the overwhelming support of black women voters in 2008 and 2012, should consider implementing policies that mitigate centuries of medical abuses and character assassination of the black woman in America. Besides the medical maladies they face, most black women are considered angry—even if they wear pastel colors and glue their mouths shut.
The angry woman trope is laughable among the righteously discontented, who are now wondering when they will we see policies that have a direct impact on their lives in every sphere. Let’s deal with specificity. When will black women have equal access and opportunity?
Do they need to storm the White House to get Obama’s attention? With two years left in the White House, perhaps he should consider forming a task force of multi-ethnic black women who will attack these deficiencies in the health field and change the way health care is administered to them. Are these deficiencies factored into the web of policies linked to Obamacare, which supposedly gives Americans access to quality and affordable healthcare?
If single black women consist of 70 percent of black households that overwhelmed voting booths to elect the first black president, then we ought to see specific policies that address these constituencies—sooner rather than later.
Like Fannie Lou Hamer who helped reshape the Democratic Party in the 1960s, some of us black women are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
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Dr. Ann-Marie Adams the founder and editor of The Hartford Guardian. She has worked for The Hartford Courant, The Washington Post, The Root.com, and People Magazine. She has taught U.S. History and Journalism at Quinnipiac University, Howard University and Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter: @annmarieadams.