Halle Berry Isn’t Immune From Medical Racism (And Neither Are We)

The Internet is abuzz because actress Halle Berry shared a story of a herpes scare during a fireside chat with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden earlier this week. When, in fact, the actress was entering perimenopause. On the surface, it seems crazy, right? In reality, it isn’t.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Berry recalled having extreme pain after sex and going to the doctor, who told her she had the worst case of herpes he’d ever seen. She and Hunt were both tested, and neither ended up having herpes and “I realized after the fact that is a symptom of perimenopause” due to dryness.  While this led Berry to become an advocate for menopause, it reminds us how medical and structural racism impacts our care.
The ways it impacts us are vast. However, a few we want to mention here include the care we want when searching for a diagnosis, treatment, or hospitalization.
The Failure to Diagnose and Treat Us Properly
If you think about what has happened to Black women this month as a result of the failure to diagnose and treat them properly, it is heartbreaking. The loss of Beauty YouTuber Jessica Pettway. Or yesterday, former Kansas City Chief cheerleader Krystal Anderson,   who died after giving birth to a stillborn child from sepsis.
Some of the ways that this can happen can be in the form of misdiagnosis, which is what happened with Pettway. Other times, it is undertreatment or lack of delayed treatment. How many of you remember that Serena Williams had to fight to be taken seriously after her emergency C-section when she was experiencing shortness of breath? The tennis champion told Vogue that the nurse tried to convince her she wasn’t thinking clearly because of her pain medication. Imagine if she had listened?
The Myth That We Feel Less Pain
Some medical students still believe we have thicker skin and can tolerate more pain. Eventually, those students become doctors, so implicit bias may be present. So, when we ask for pain medication, we don’t know what the health professional we encounter believes about us.
 Using Negative Descriptors On Our Charts
Black patients were 2.54 times more likely to have one negative descriptor in their chart, according to Researchers at the University of Chicago. They used machine learning to examine electronic health records of patients’ negative words and phrases, such as “resistant” or “defensive,” in more than 40,000 adults. They wanted to understand how biased language impacted patient care.
We Need To Do Our Research
This is not our imagination; two books examine its toll on our lives. Linda Villarosa’s Under The Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on Health in America is a sweeping examination of what it has cost us. Uché Blackstock’s Legacy: A Black Physician Reckons With Racism in Medicine is told from a personal perspective.
Check out these books to understand how structural racism may impact care and how you must advocate for yourself.


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