By YOLONDA Y. WILSON, PhD
Last week a nurse posted a video of herself on Twitter mocking patients with the caption “We know when y’all are faking” followed by laughing emojis. Twitter responded with the hashtag #patientsarenotfaking, created by Imani Barbarin, and a slew of testimonials of negligent medical care. While the nurse’s video was not explicitly racialized, plenty in the black community felt a particular sting: there is clear evidence that this attitude contributes to the problem of black patients receiving substandard care, and that negative behavioral traits like faking or exaggerating symptoms are more likely to be attributed to black patients. The problem is so bad that it turns out racial bias is built right into an algorithm widely used by hospitals to determine patient need.
Since we can’t rely on the system or algorithms, many health organizations and the popular media encourage patients to advocate for themselves and their loved ones by, for example, asking questions, asking for second (or more) opinions, “trusting [their] guts,” and not being afraid to speak up for themselves or their loved ones. But this ubiquitous advice to “be your own advocate” doesn’t take into account that not all “advocacy” is interpreted in the same way—especially when the advocacy comes from a black person. Sometimes a patient’s self-advocacy is dismissed as “faking;” sometimes it is regarded as anger or hostility.
Black male faces showing neutral expressions are more likely than white faces to be interpreted as angry, violent, or hostile, while black women are often perceived as ill-tempered and angry. These stereotypes can have a chilling effect on a person’s decision to advocate for themselves, or it can prompt violent reaction.Continue reading…