A survey of 222 white medical students and residents released earlier this month by Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences found that – get this – most of them believe that black people have a greater tolerance for pain and therefore are apt to show significant disparities in the way they prescribe pain treatment.
“Specifically, this work reveals that a substantial number of white laypeople and medical students and residents hold false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites and demonstrates that these beliefs predict racial bias in pain perception and treatment recommendation accuracy,” according to the survey’s abstract.
“It also provides the first evidence that racial bias in pain perception is associated with racial bias in pain treatment recommendations. Taken together, this work provides evidence that false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites continue to shape the way we perceive and treat black people — they are associated with racial disparities in pain assessment and treatment recommendations,” says the report. The findings are astonishing in the 21st century. The fact that there are professionals (and I use that word loosely) – especially medical professionals – who have beliefs that are so outlandish is amazing.
Half of those surveyed believe that black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s skin, that black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than white’s; and many in the study believe that blacks age slower than whites. Yes, we have all heard that “Black Don’t Crack,” but when it comes to reality, we need to recognize fact from fiction.
What it means is that blacks are not given medical advice and medicine that could alleviate their pain as often as white and Hispanic people. It also means that failing to prescribe the right treatment for pain – an indication of the seriousness of an ailment – could lead to bigger problems for black people.
All of this harks back to the greatest myths about black people: All black people can sing; all black people can run fast; all black people look alike; black people are lazy; black people don’t tip; most black people are on welfare; all black people not only love watermelon, but are from the hood as well; black men are more well-endowed than any other men on earth; and black people have smaller brains that white people.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that “a 2000 study out of Emory University found that at a hospital emergency department in Atlanta, 74 percent of white patients with bone fractures received painkillers compared with 50 percent of black patients. Similarly, a paper last year found that black children with appendicitis were less likely to receive pain medication than their white counterparts. And a 2007 study found that physicians were more likely to underestimate the pain of black patients compared with other patients.”
While I don’t profess to know how we can deal with these falsehoods about biological differences, I do know that eventually we as a nation will have to get beyond racism and stereotypes in order to remain the formidable country that we are.
They truth is that underneath our skin, we are all the same. We breathe the same, give birth the same way. You would want me to believe that pain is identified as “black people’s” pain. Do we think that Advil knows which race is taking the medicine once the pills are in your system? Really?