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Why Medical Racism = Genocide

Racism is real. It influences all aspects of our lives, including whose histories are taught in school, what laws get created, and how we are treated.

When we experience racism while receiving healthcare, it is called medical racism. If you think about it, medical racism against Native people is another form of genocide. But what does medical racism look like? How is it harmful to us, and what can we do about it?

What is Medical Racism?
Medical racism happens when someone is discriminated against within the medical system because of their race, skin color, or ethnicity. This can look like:

  • Unfair, incorrect, or even no treatment based on your skin color
  • Being asked questions based on racial or ethnic stereotypes
  • Having assumptions made about you or your family based on racial or ethnic stereotypes

Medical racism also happens when healthcare institutions, like hospitals and clinics, have rules or policies that benefit white people over people of color. This can look like rules or policies that:

  • Underfund (or do not fund) hospitals or clinics in poorer neighborhoods
  • Allow healthcare providers to opt out of trainings on racism, bias, and microaggressions
  • Underpay healthcare staff serving communities on color

How is Medical Racism Harmful to Us?
Being treated differently in a medical setting can be fatal. When symptoms are downplayed or disregarded due to someone’s skin color, race, or ethnicity, that person may not receive the treatment they need. This can result in them dying or living without important treatments or medications that may improve their life.

Genocide is a deliberate killing of marginalized communities. In a sense, medical racism is genocide carried out by people and institutions. Medical racism is dangerous, especially when people are too scared to come forward or they are ignored when they speak out.

So, What Can We Do?
One thing you can do is know your rights when receiving healthcare. Another thing you can do – if you are someone you love experiences medical racism, you can act by:

  • Talking to the health provider
    If you feel that you are receiving improper treatment due to your skin color, race, or ethnicity, you could talk to your health provider. Share your concerns and let them know you believe you are being mistreated. Make sure to document this conversation in writing by sending a follow-up email to the provider. This can be used later.
  • Talking to a patient advocate
    Most offices and hospitals have a patient advocate- people who advocate for patients, which could help improve the quality of your care.
  • Filing a complaint
    For example, you can file a formal complaint through the facility. You can speak with the Medical Director. Also, you can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Medical racism is never okay and can be life-threatening. Remember – it’s your right to ask questions and be informed about your body so you can make good decisions that will keep you healthy. It’s also your right to receive high-quality care from health providers who offer you useful advice about medications and treatments that is not colored by your skin tone, race, or ethnicity.

For more information about this topic:

Author: Shaelee Singer is a sophomore at Portland State University and member of the Navajo Nation. As an English major interested in education, Shaelee is grateful to be writing articles that spread awareness about health to Native youth.

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