I just had a brief Facebook exchange with a white woman (a friend of a friend) that perfectly shows why Black women must always fight to keep our voices and experiences from being erased. Our mutual friend had posted yet another article about a Black woman who was denied COVID-19 testing THREE times, and ultimately died from the virus. These stories have been popping up all over the place, especially in the hardest hit areas. And they clearly show the rampant racial bias that has always existed in our health care system.
The conversation that followed the article was mostly about how this current pandemic has truly highlighted the huge disparities between the medical treatment of Black people, and Black women, in particular, and everyone else. We all lamented the fact that too often, Black women’s pain and symptoms are ignored because of the implicit bias of medical professionals; and how this happens to Black women regardless of their education levels or socioeconomic status.
In fact the original poster is one of my best friends, and is a highly educated physician who lives in a wealthy neighborhood. But when her COVID-19 symptoms became life-threatening and she had to call an ambulance, the EMTs tried their hardest to talk her out of going. They repeatedly dismissed her symptoms and kept telling her that the hospital would probably send her home. It took another physician friend who was on speakerphone to convince them to take my friend to the hospital, where she was admitted, after all. Thankfully, she was released after a few days, and is recovering comfortably home. Praise God.
Anyway, I pointed out how frustrating it is for Black women to basically have to submit a resume and bank statement when recounting these experiences. It’s as if, for the benefit of the white sympathy, we have to prove our “worth” as humans to get them to understand that we get discriminated against because we are Black and female, regardless of our backgrounds and income. As if it’s okay to discriminate against poor and uneducated Black women. Which, of course, it isn’t. No one should face discrimination when seeking medical care.
It’s the same thing that happens when a young Black, unarmed person is murdered by the police. We always feel compelled to point out that he was a good student with a promising future. In reality, no one deserves to be gunned down, regardless of how they do in school, or where they live, or how much money they have.
But I digress.
Where my doctor friend’s white friend (whom I’d met years ago when they were in medical school together – she’s very nice, btw) made me grit my teeth was when she said,”I think that women, in general, are often dismissed and being a woman of color magnifies that”.
She just “All Lives Mattered” the very specific discrimination that Black women face in health care! Not only that, but she lumped Black women in with all women of color, which is another HUGE pet peeve of mine (more on that in a second).
Listen. I will be the first to admit that all women face discrimination. Full stop. How-some-ever (as the aunties used to say) … there is absolutely no scenario, situation, or circumstance where white women face the same level of discrimination as Black women. Not here in the good ol’ U. S. of A., and not ANYWHERE else on this planet!! I don’t care how much Becky and Karen have to deal with, it pales (see what I did there?) in comparison to what Black women face EVERY SINGLE DAY.
(In fact, have y’all seen how, all across the internet, white women have been claiming that them being called Karen is the same as a Black person being called the n-word? Whew! The nerve! But that’s worthy of a whole separate post, because there is so much to unpack and discuss. Again, I digress.)
And people really need to stop saying “women of color” when they mean Black women. Because again, Black women face way more discrimination than women from any other racial or ethnic group. And more often than not, those other groups treat Black women like shit, too. All while appropriating our vernacular, our style, our swagger, and everything else that’s glorious about us.
That is why I never refer to myself as a woman of color, anymore. Not when those other colors treat me just as badly as some white folks do. No thank you. I am a Black woman. Period. And when you are referring to any kind of statistics, trends, studies, or whatever that measure how women are treated, you need to make sure you separate the experiences of Black women from every other category. Because our experiences are not that same.
That’s not to say that I don’t believe in solidarity with ALL women on many issues, like equal pay, reproductive freedom, and any number of important things. I’m all for gender solidarity as long as Black women’s voices are heard and heeded. But what I won’t do is allow for the erasure or dilution of Black women’s experiences. Nor will I let ANY comment, turn of phrase, or post that attempts to do so go unchallenged.
I’ll close with a quote from the late Malcolm X: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” He said that in 1962, and it has never been more true than today.
Wash your hands and stay healthy!