Systemic Racism in Women’s Health

I wish I didn’t have to write about Systemic Racism in Women’s Health…but I do.  I REALLY do.  Women are dying, unnecessarily, EVERY DAY.  Did you know…

Cartoon Image of 3 black women with hands crossed. Text above reads "Black Women are 3x More Likely to Die from Pregnancy Related Causes Than White Women." It's true. And Terrible. And we need to do something about it.
Systemic Racism in Women’s Health is all too present in modern culture in the USA. It’s true. And terrible. And something needs to be done.

  One More Time for Those in The Back:

Today…in the USA…Black Women are 3x more likely to die from pregnancy, delivery, or postpartum related causes than white women.

And black women are 4x more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than Hispanic women. Is anyone else nauseous about this?? But avoiding the uncomfortable topic won’t change it, so let’s lean in.

The Research & Data on Systemic Racism in Women’s Health

Depending on where you live, black women are 2-6X more likely to die from pregnancy related conditions.

The CDC’s state-specific maternal mortality report from 1999 shows the grim truth.

Take a look and see how your state fares?

You need to look for yourself, as well as for your loved ones and neighbors.   {Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). State-specific maternal mortality among black and white women–United States, 1987-1996. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1999 Jun 18;48(23):492-6. PMID: 10428091}

But Dr. Kelly, that was from 1999, I want more recent research!!

I’m happy to oblige, but sad about what it says.

  • Here’s the link to the 2020 Maternal Mortality Report from the CDC.  This report confirms the 3x increased risk of maternal mortality rates for black women, when compared to hispanic and white women.  In 2020. In the USA.
  • Katherine Crandall and colleagues also have an amazing 2021 paper that you can access here, which adds more depth (and seriousness and urgency) to the situation.

Oh my.  Systemic Racism in Women’s Health IS a big deal, isn’t it?

You have no idea.  Actually…just from reading this blog post, you have a better idea than most.  If you’re still hungry for more knowledge, the Flanders Study from 2000 offers one more resource to improve your awareness to the problem.

Okay–my head is spinning. WHY is this happening? 

Systemic Racism in Women’s Health happens for many reasons.   

  1. Many modern day doctors hold misconceptions about biological differences between people with different skin colors. From believing that different skin colors mean different pain tolerances, or reduced coping strategies (like if a black woman with has a headache is told to go home and rest…and their blood pressure isn’t taken…then she dies from preeclampsia). Seriously.  Check out Hoffman, et al.  I could NOT make this up. 
  2. “MOST health care providers appear to have implicit bias in terms of positive attitudes towards whites and negative attitudes towards other people of color.” From Hall, et al.  WHAT!??!!   This means that health care providers have prejudices that they don’t even know are there!!  And how, my friends, can you change something if you don’t know it’s there???

So what can we do to reduce systemic racism in women’s health?

I’m so glad you asked. Truthfully, I don’t know, but here are my ideas to start from. 

  1. EDUCATE YOURSELF (which you’re starting to do now, with this post, and the linked articles)
  2. EDUCATE YOUR DOCTORS–remember that Howell study? 8 out of 9 studies had implicit bias. Which means the Doctors don’t know they hold this bias–they’ll never know unless someone tells them. Who better than YOU, and when better than NOW!
  3. EDUCATE YOUR FRIENDS–YOU are amazing.  But it is true that you are only one person.  TELL YOUR FRIENDS, FAMILIES, SOCIAL NETWORKS about this. SCREAM IT from the roofs.  Write a letter to your newspaper.  Spreading awareness saves lives. 
  4. Are you a medical pro, and want to make changes RIGHT NOW?? Check out this meaty article by Elizabeth Howell on How to Reduce Racial Disparities in Maternal Mortality Rates.  (I’ll summarize that one, specifically, later on).

Phew.  That was a meaty topic, wasn’t it. But an important one. THANK YOU for being here, and spreading this important message.  It really will save a life.  Maybe yours. Maybe someone you love, or someone your children love.  I’ll have an in-depth online course on this topic soon, but for now, spread the information that you can, and thank you!


Dr. Kelly

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