O’Neil Britton, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Massachusetts General Hospital, introduces this month’s installment of “Insight into Identities” that focuses on Black / African American communities. Here are some excerpts from his introduction:
No Experience is Universal: Even though there are many commonalities of how black people view themselves collectively, there are also many differences in how we see ourselves as individuals (as it should be) or subgroups. For example, here I am also using the less than ideal term “black” versus African American given my mixed heritage of living in the Caribbean and the United States.
Race is a Social Construct: The assumption of who is “black” or where the notion of being black comes from does not have a straightforward answer, with many embracing the identity while others working to avoid being labelled as such or seeking a more accurate description of skin tone or ancestral origin. In some ways, the collective term “black,” represents a lost or stolen history of who we are as individuals and as a people.
History of Racism: In health care, historical misrepresentation of blacks having more pain tolerance or labeling race as risk factors for biologic conditions such as hypertension has harmed black patients and led to widespread health disparities. In addition, science was misused to justify racism, often declaring black people as a separate species unable to participate in sophisticated thought processes and creating bias testing platforms to prove intellectual superiorities of whites versus others such as the IQ test and just about every standardized test that followed. These views were further reinforced by religious teachings of enlightenment of “barbaric” peoples, which justified the immoral acts of slavery, colonialism and all the forms of discrimination that followed these institutions.
Looking Ahead: As I look across where I work, where I live and where my children go to school, I see both tremendous personal gains for some and a troubling lack of investment and empathy for far too many black people. These two worlds overlap frequently as I move through my day, usually conjoined due to my black identity. One day, we would all be so fortunate to be seen as individuals, rather than a group, and judged in a racially equitable manner, or as Dr. King puts it, “by the content of our character.”
You are invited – either on your own or with others on your team – to review the information and resources in this month’s Insight into Identities newsletter, which can be found on Partners Pulse, and reflect on how the Black / African American identity impacts not just ourselves, but also our patients, colleagues, institutions and our health care system.
Read Dr. Britton’s full introduction here.