Why do Black people distrust the medical system? Why do white doctors believe racist myths? Should there be all-Black hospitals? The racial inequities in America’s health care system have been on display more than ever in the past year, and they cry out for bold questions and creative solutions. It’s time for “Real Talk, Real Change.” This special edition of The Carlos Watson Show, brought to you by our friends at Chevrolet, is personal for me, given my own mother’s struggles with not being heard by white doctors when it turned out she was battling late-stage kidney cancer. Now we’re getting answers. In this new special, we hear from policymakers, medical professionals and patients about what needs to change to fix this shame in our society. I hope you’ll find this as powerful and illuminating to watch as it was to create.
America has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among rich countries, and that only tells part of the story. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and 2020 candidate for president, points out that Black women are 243 percent more likely than their white counterparts to die of pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes: “And this is a crisis that has only been made worse by this pandemic,” he says. Booker, along with fellow “Real Talk, Real Change” guest Rep. Lauren Underwood, a nurse, is a co-sponsor of the Momnibus Act — a package that includes funding for a more diverse perinatal workforce, improved data collection and the tackling of broader societal issues such as transportation. “This is an American issue and a shame we should step up and deal with, overcoming the poverty of empathy,” Booker says.
Sasha Mitchell-Fuller, co-executive producer of The Carlos Watson Show, takes a turn in front of the camera to talk about her own emotional experience giving birth to her second child. After feeling a lack of support from white medical professionals, Mitchell-Fuller sought out a Black doula — one who looked like her. Her doula cared for her, represented her and spoke for her in the hospital, Mitchell-Fuller says, making the birth a better experience than she thought possible.
Women of color are consistently dismissed and belittled by doctors, and studies show half of white medical trainees believe race-based myths, such as that Black people have thicker skin than whites. As family medicine physician Dr. Jennifer Caudle points out, the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with racial justice protests, sparked an awakening to the ugly truth of these health disparities. It’s important for policymakers and public health experts to know, Caudle says, that “it’s not just a Black people problem. ... [It’s] our country’s problem, because the reasons for these inequities go really deep.”
After delivering her twins, Jennifer Carroll Foy almost died of pregnancy complications because she was sent home prematurely, her medical concerns ignored. Foy’s experience inspired her to run for governor of Virginia, and she’s now on a quest to become the first Black female governor in U.S. history. “There is no reason that in one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world … that Black women are dying at rates of Third World countries. ... And what’s most offensive is that it’s preventable,” says Foy, who served one term in the Virginia House of Delegates. She believes that “it’s not enough to have bills and budgets written for Black women.” They need to be “written by Black women,” she says.
Only 5 percent of American doctors are Black, a statistic that surgeon and TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz is committed to changing, in part because Black babies see better outcomes with Black doctors. “Within medicine we’ve allowed issues to percolate for too long, and we’ve got a great opportunity now to awaken people.” Dr. Oz is throwing his support behind Black students looking to break into the world of medicine via the #MoreBlackDoctors program. Oz’s nonprofit, HealthCorps, teaches underserved high school students about health, “but now I want to teach them to go into health,” he says.
Charlamagne Tha God,co-host of The Breakfast Club radio show, is also a prominent mental health advocate who is helping overcome the stigmas around therapy and seeking out mental health services within the Black community. His goal? Getting more mental health literacy programs into public schools, so kids know at a young age what they’re dealing with and how to seek help. For Charlamagne, that means therapy and meditation to help him get to a better place than when he would go to the emergency room with panic attacks. “Anxiety is like Michael Jordan in the ’90s: You can’t stop it; you can only hope to contain it,” he says.