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Being a Good Ally – How to Advocate for the Health of Black and Brown Women Around You

Mar 29, 2022

Being a Good Ally – How to Advocate for the Health of Black and Brown Women Around You
  • Table of Contents

  • Advocating for women’s health care can be a daunting task with constantly being overlooked, misheard, and misrepresented. Adding to the mix of being part of a marginalized group for Black and Brown women, it can feel almost impossible to get the proper care that’s needed. Allyship is more important than ever to amplify the voices of these groups that are often silenced.

    Black and Brown women often face different barriers when it comes to accessing healthcare, including socioeconomic barriers, racism, and lack of access. Using your platform and voice to advocate is one of the best ways to ensure that all women can get the healthcare they need and deserve.

    Not sure how to start being an amazing ally? Here are some tips.

    Know What Care is Needed

    The most important part of advocating for your healthcare is knowing what kind of care is needed. Support the Black and Brown women around you in providing safe spaces for them to discuss and learn more about the care that they may need. Encouraging preventative care, such as different types of testing is essential. Knowing when to get a pap smear, cholesterol or sugar levels checked and other kinds of blood work allows for certain conditions to be caught before it’s too late. Black and Brown women can have a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, so this testing is essential.

    It can also be challenging to know what tests to ask for so encouraging the use of online resources such as Harvard Medical School’s website or the National Library of Medicine to find resources about what screenings to ask for can provide Black and Brown women with knowledge going into an appointment.

    It’s also important to leave appointments having a clear understanding of what the next steps are concerning your healthcare plan. Providing safe spaces for Black and Brown women to ask for clarification surrounding a diagnosis, or allowing them to schedule specific appointments when requested creates a welcoming environment to discuss their overall health.

    Encourage Knowing Your Baseline Stats

    Advocating for your health is impossible if you’re unaware of what’s normal for your body. Many Black and Brown women suffer from chronic pain that they’ve written off as normal. Bringing awareness to the fact that many symptoms being experienced are signs of a possible deeper condition encourages tracking symptoms to bring up at a primary care appointment. Allowing Black and Brown women to speak on these conditions without downplaying their concerns or dismissing them completely creates spaces for more women of these groups to follow suit.

    Knowing where your weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate fall normally is critical to understanding when your symptoms may be a cause for concern. Also knowing how your breast tissue typically feels, your normal urine color, bowel movement frequency, and whether you typically suffer from headaches can save you from unnecessary fear.

    Having some basic information about your family history such as genetic disorders can help to paint a full picture for your care provider. Being able to answer these questions can help your doctor provide an informed treatment plan relevant to your specific needs.

    Have a Primary Care Doctor

    Your primary care doctor is arguably the most important person when it comes to caring for your health. For many Black and Brown women, there is a high level of trauma associated with visiting a doctor due to healthcare-based racism. Often this means avoiding a doctor altogether, rather than going through the dehumanizing experience of being silenced during an appointment.

    Doctors of color are tremendously important to making the healthcare space more welcoming for WOC. The comfort of having someone that looks like you, who you can also relate to takes away a lot of the fear and apprehension surrounding medical visits. Doctors of color can often understand the intersectionality of race, gender, and status when it comes to healthcare treatment for Black and Brown women and provide culturally competent care based on this. 

    Both doctors of color and white doctors can stand to learn about implicit bias when it comes to the treatment of Black and Brown women, as well as cultural competency to provide care that is as inclusive and relevant as possible. Through the understanding that Black and Brown women may require different care than other people due to genetics, lack of access, or previous neglect in medical care, they can ensure that their practice is open and welcoming to all.

    Pay Attention to Pain and Symptoms

    Black women are routinely undertreated for pain when visiting a doctor’s office or emergency room with symptoms. Many Black and Brown women silently suffer from chronic pain that they were led to believe was normal, due to it happening for so long. Something as simple as severe cramps can be a serious sign of Endometriosis or PCOS, but often Black and Brown women are brushed off by doctors or advised to take over-the-counter pain killers. 

    Statistically, black women are less likely to be taken seriously by a health care provider when bringing up the pain. Words like she “claims” she experiences this symptom, or “insists” are often used on charts to discredit the women seeking help. There’s also racial bias when it comes to recommendations to cure pain, such as it is more challenging for Black and Brown women to obtain painkillers, get certain testing, or simply get an appointment. This leads to misdiagnosis for many chronic pain disorders such as Lupus, Endometriosis, and Fibromyalgia. 

    Charts such as the BMI chart are also outdated and not tailored to accommodate different body build, muscle mass, and genetics. Part of making healthcare more inclusive is providing modern healthcare that accommodates all body types and acknowledges that racially there may be differences in the way that doctors should approach caring for WOC.

    Becoming an Ally Can Start Today

    As an ally, the most important thing you can do is amplify the voices of the Black and Brown women around you when they tell their stories. Allyship can take place in many ways. Making room for them to speak, while continuing to educate yourself on the struggles they face is essential. Providing free or low-cost healthcare to impoverished Black and Brown women allows for all women to have access to the healthcare they deserve. Taking racial sensitivity training and learning about your own biases can make you more open-minded when handling the care of Black and Brown women.

    The work of being an ally may take being intentional to realize how you systemically are holding Black and Brown women back from receiving the health care they need, but by becoming aware of your actions and taking steps to become more inclusive, WOC can get the treatment and care they deserve.

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    Alexandra hails from Boston, MA but is currently living in the DC Area. She's passionate about social justice, self-care, spirituality, and watching documentaries. She's no stranger to telling her story through writing and has written for a variety of freelance publications. You can find her on Instagram at @lexlexlexlexlex__.

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