According to womenshealth.gov:
African-American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer. Their tumors often are found at a later, more advanced stage. So, there are fewer treatment options. Some other reasons for this may include not being able to get health care or not following-up after getting abnormal test results. Other reasons may include distrust of the health care system, the belief that mammograms are not needed, or not having insurance. Also, research has shown that African-American women are more likely to get a form of breast cancer that spreads more quickly.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems as if all of the representations for breast cancer in mainstream culture are white. Recently, mainstream media outlets flipped over Angelina Jolie undergoing a double mastectomy to ensure that she wouldn’t get breast cancer. Breast cancer has always been regarded as a white woman’s issue considering there are usually no depictions of black women in campaigns, even though Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer.
There has already been a lot of discussion surrounding the “pink-washing” of breast cancer. Most of us are already accustomed to seeing everything doused in pink to support breast cancer research, even though no one knows where the money actually goes. “Pink” has merely become a new market where companies pretend like they care about women’s health, even though they just want your cash. [On a side note, I once went into staples, and they literally were selling pink staplers. Like, really?]
Also, there has already been a lot of discussion surrounding the sexism in breast cancer campaigns where companies try to get heterosexual men to donate to research by sexualizing women’s breasts, basically saying hey men…you should care about breast cancer, because…boobs!! If you need a visualization of this, just click here.
However, I’m a bit dismayed to see that there isn’t really a mainstream conversation about the overt exclusion of black women from breast cancer discussions. The director of the Sinai Health Institute, Steve Whitman stated:
“It’s undeniable that this is systemic racism. I don’t mean that a bad person is at the door personally keeping women out, but the system is arranged in such a way that it’s allowing white women access to the important gains we’ve made since 1990 in terms of breast health, and black women have not been able to gain access to these advances.”
There’s a history of black people in the U.S. not trusting the medical establishment. There’s actually a word called, “iatrophobia” that details blacks peoples mistrust of the medical world because of the ways black bodies were unethically used during slavery as guinea pigs in experiments. [I am going to devote a whole, separate post this to this phenomenon]. Black bodies are still used in tests today, especially black bodies in prison. This prevents many black people from going to get check ups, and getting mammograms.
Perhaps medical establishments need to own up to a legacy of racism in their practices in hopes of gaining some of that trust back. Essentially, I would argue that black women are not dying from breast cancer, they are dying from racism.