You Don’t Know My Pain
Racism kills. I’m not talking about the murderous, foaming at the mouth racism, either. I’m talking about the benign, bless your heart, nice kind of racism. Case in point, medical care.
Once, when I was in college, my friend Bo and I were kicking a soccer ball back and forth. At one point, he kicked the ball wide, and I went for it. I ended up landing hard on my knee. When I got up, Bo’s face went white. When I looked down at my knee, I understood why. There was a huge hole in my knee. Not only could I see my leg bone, but I could see the tendons and ligaments around my knee. I immediately felt like I was going to pass out. Bo quickly moved to help keep me up, and we went to the hospital. When I was in the ER, the doctor treating me had to clean out all the gravel from the hole. He did this by shooting water into the hole. Imagine having a bunch of exposed nerves hit by a fire hose. It’s as painful as you think. When I reacted to the pain, he told me I was being a baby, and that I needed to man up.
Fast forward a couple decades. I’m 30, and having laser eye surgery. From everything I had heard, they gave you a valium before the surgery. I was with my ex when he had it, and he had valium. I got nothing. The doctor told me I would be fine, as he put on a CD of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest hits. Not only was I suffering, but I was suffering to the tune of Love Changes Everything.
I’m not alone in my experience. Studies have shown that doctors tend to underestimate the pain level of black patients. On the one hand, this might be a blessing in disguise. After all, the opiod epidemic has pretty much missed our demographic. But on the other hand, it means we have to live with the pain. But we’re black people in America. We’re used to that already.
The problem is that if you are used to ignoring our pain, you will also ignore when it gets to the point of being life threatening. For example: Child birth. In the US, black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. If Serena Williams, one of the wealthiest, most powerful athletes in the world almost died, what chance do regular black women have? You’re killing us. Literally.
But this goes beyond the medical realm. America has historically ignored the pain of black people, both physical and emotional. Every assault on our bodies, every affront to our dignity, every anguished cry. Ignored. The irony is that so many people admire the strength and resiliency of black people, without seeing that it is the fruit of our suffering. Someone actually gave me that compliment today. Can I tell you how much I hate my strength and resiliency, and wish the world hadn’t made them necessary tools of my survival? Because it’s true. You know what? Never mind. That’s just my pain talking. Feel free to ignore it.