Happy Juneteenth

Juneteenth – Intersectionality in the Black and Disabled Communities

Today is June 19th, also known as Juneteenth

On this date in 1865 in Texas and other Southwestern states, news of the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans finally reached the general population. A year later, the date was celebrated as the unofficial end of legal slavery in Galveston, Texas, and soon began to spread to other communities across the nation.

For many of us who are not Black, it is easy to think of holidays like Juneteenth as just a celebration. It is an expression of freedom, of strong people who have overcome adversity. 

As of this week, in fact, Juneteenth is a federally recognized holiday in the United States. All is well, right?

For people who are living the reality of being Black in America, though, all is not well. 

The last few years have put this into sharp focus, with the infamous and inexcusable murders of Black people by police officers, jail security staff, and would-be vigilantes which led to protests around the world. While these demonstrations have forced many of us to sit up and take notice of the modern-day face of racism in our communities, it is certainly not a new phenomenon.

Just as Juneteenth was not truly the end of slavery – and certainly not the end of imbalanced, discriminatory, and violent treatment to Black Americans – the demonstrations that happened in 2020 were not the end of the unfair treatment and unjustified killings of Black people in the states. 

The problem is that our society is so stacked against Black people and other minorities that it is far too easy to sweep their mistreatment under the rug.

Being both Black and disabled in America can be a difficult balancing act. - Juneteenth - The Whole Spoon Drawer Chronic Illness & Disability Blog

Black and Disabled in America – Double Dose of Discrimination

I do not have to tell you that Black Americans face dangerous levels of discrimination in many parts of their lives in America and around the world. 

If you are reading this blog, I also do not have to tell you that disabled and chronically ill people face major discrimination, especially from medical providers and peers who do not want to accommodate their needs. Now, imagine facing all of these challenges simultaneously, every day.

That is the reality of life for chronically ill and disabled Black people. 

Bias against Black people – especially Black women – in the United States and around the world is often referred to as an “open secret“. The rate at which their symptoms and complaints are taken seriously and addressed sincerely are far lower than the rates of similar populations of other races. 

Even people who identify as Black but who appear mixed race or “white passing” are treated with more understanding and accommodation than those with darker skin tones. It is as if skin color is directly linked to the level of respect and understanding that some people believe others deserve.

Never was this more evident than in recent years during the opioid crisis.

While Black people – and again, Black women, in particular – were significantly less likely to receive adequate treatment for their pain and other chronic illness symptoms, they were much more likely to be suspected or accused of drug use and abuse. Many Black patients had doctors or medical providers tell them that they would not receive any medication for their symptoms, while white patients presenting with the same concerns were given medication or provided with treatment. 

Black patients were much more likely to die from their illnesses as a result.

COVID-19 was, in theory, a nondiscriminatory virus. It destroyed the lives of people both rich and poor, regardless of race, gender, and social status. However, in nations like the United States, Black and Hispanic populations – especially those in impoverished areas – were far more likely to contract the virus because of poor public health conditions and provisions. These communities were often the last priorities for public health organizations who were trying to address the ruthless spread of the virus. 

This left millions of families and citizens unprotected and at risk.

What’s more, studies have shown that Black Americans were over 3.5 times more likely to die from the virus than white populations from the same areas. This cast a bright and unflattering light on the tendency of the medical profession to focus more on the suffering of white citizens than Black or Hispanic. 

It also left those populations to live – and die – with the consequences of that racial disparity.

This is by no means a new problem. Black people have been facing shorter life expectancies and higher rates of common health problems for decades due to racial discrimination in medicine. For anyone who is disabled, this only compounds issues they would otherwise face. 

Being chronically ill or disabled and Black in America and many other nations is tantamount to a poor prognosis or even a death sentence.

We owe it to our fellow spoonies to advocate for the proper care of Black patients. - Juneteenth - The Whole Spoon Drawer Chronic Illness & Disability Blog

What Can We Do?

After reading this, you may be wondering what you can do to help turn the tides of these discriminatory practices. How can you as a disabled or chronically ill person help Black Americans – particularly disabled Black citizens – to find better access to good healthcare?

It all starts with advocacy. 

Black patients and citizens have been standing up for themselves and one another in their communities and in the offices of medical providers for centuries. They have marched on government buildings and made picket lines around medical buildings to make their voices heard. 

But it is not enough to truly bring about change – not when the society they live in actively seeks to silence those voices.

If you have a position of privilege or a platform of any kind, you owe it to your Black friends and neighbors to use those resources to advocate for their care and equity. 

Don’t think you have these resources? 

Check your phone. If you have social media applications, you have ways to spread the message. 

Check your mirror. If you are a white or non-Black person, you have the privilege that Black people do not, which you can use to advocate for their proper treatment. 

Though you are only one person, you have the power to lift up others – and that can be very impactful.

Start by sharing this post. Link to some of the sources shared here. Celebrate Juneteenth today, but honor the spirit of the celebration by lifting up Black Americans in every community throughout the year. See just what a difference your voice can make when, joined with others, it is lifted in protest. In advocacy. In celebration.

Wishing you a proud and happy Juneteenth!

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