Five Things about Medical Racism with Deirdre Cooper Owens
She teaches students about the history of pandemics. Her work is known all over the country. And a book she wrote was used as a reference for a popular series on HBO. Deirdre Cooper Owens is the Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine program at UNL. In this episode she explains why African Americans don’t always trust the medical system and steps she’s taking to make a change.
Show notes: More about Deirdre Cooper Owens ›› history.unl.edu/deirdre-cooper-owens; More about Humanities in Medicine ›› www.unl.edu/hmed
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[00:00:09.320]In 1932, African-American men in Alabama
[00:00:13.090]were recruited to be part of an experiment
[00:00:15.450]on untreated syphilis.
[00:00:17.660]They weren't told that was the goal.
[00:00:19.860]And many of them received ineffective treatment,
[00:00:22.760]or none at all.
[00:00:24.110]Deirdre Cooper Owens, teaches about the experiment
[00:00:26.870]in her classes at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
[00:00:29.860]And her students are always surprised
[00:00:32.360]when they learned the experiment continued for decades.
[00:00:36.400]I often tell my students when I teach them
[00:00:38.360]about Tuskegee, I said it ended in 1972.
[00:00:41.520]I was born in 1972.
[00:00:44.923]And so they're like,
[00:00:45.817]"What, this happened in the late 20th century?"
[00:00:48.410]I'm like, "It ended in in 1972."
[00:00:51.460]The Tuskegee experiment is just one example
[00:00:54.360]of the nation's troubling history
[00:00:56.210]of discrimination in healthcare.
[00:01:01.180]This is Faculty 101: Five Things About Medical Racism.
[00:01:11.900]Deirdre Cooper Owens is the Charles and Linda Wilson
[00:01:14.910]professor in the history of medicine
[00:01:16.990]and director of the humanities in medicine program at UNL.
[00:01:21.210]Her book, Medical Bandage, explores the health
[00:01:24.310]and medical experiences of enslaved women.
[00:01:27.210]Cooper Owens speaks about racism at medical schools
[00:01:30.530]all over the country.
[00:01:32.180]A quick production note,
[00:01:33.390]because of COVID-19 safety precautions,
[00:01:35.730]we interviewed Cooper Owens on zoom and outdoors.
[00:01:38.860]So the audio from the interview
[00:01:40.360]is sometimes not quite up to our standards.
[00:01:42.650]And once in a while,
[00:01:44.070]you'll hear the sound of someone singing.
[00:01:46.260]That's a music student who was practicing outdoors.
[00:01:50.250]Number one, medical racism is a problem
[00:01:53.240]that existed throughout history and continues today.
[00:01:57.200]It fuels the distrust of African-Americans
[00:02:00.100]about COVID-19 vaccinations.
[00:02:02.700]So yes, there is a distrust,
[00:02:04.690]but just because African-Americans hold disbelief
[00:02:08.370]doesn't mean that the practices align with the beliefs.
[00:02:11.300]So what does that mean?
[00:02:12.510]That means that they're still going to the doctors.
[00:02:14.690]They're still making their appointments.
[00:02:17.310]It's just when they have these kinds of expectations
[00:02:21.450]that they might not be treated well,
[00:02:23.430]or their symptoms might be ignored
[00:02:25.470]because they're thought to be dishonest about their pain,
[00:02:29.550]or perhaps there's a belief that somehow
[00:02:31.760]they're overusing indulging, you know, abusing drugs.
[00:02:36.750]I mean, just all manner of things.
[00:02:39.390]You know, you still have this distrust.
[00:02:42.250]Number two, communities of color in this country
[00:02:45.280]are being hit hard by the Corona Virus pandemic
[00:02:48.770]Black people tend to be disproportionately poor.
[00:02:51.690]They also do the frontline work.
[00:02:54.040]In addition to sometimes you go into places
[00:02:56.330]and you are not treated respectfully
[00:02:58.820]or the kinds of care medication that you need,
[00:03:03.700]it literally was the perfect recipe
[00:03:07.390]for disaster when it came to black communities,
[00:03:11.170]And in the Midwest, I think we see this in Indian country
[00:03:14.000]in particularly with the Navajo nation.
[00:03:16.830]Number three, medical racism plays a role
[00:03:19.570]in the nation's dismal record
[00:03:21.430]of maternal health disparities.
[00:03:23.750]African-American women are three to four times more likely
[00:03:26.960]in the country to die or have complications in childbirth,
[00:03:31.610]more than any other group.
[00:03:33.270]Now, the sad thing is in certain metropolises,
[00:03:37.250]in New York, in LA, that number can sometimes get
[00:03:40.820]as high as eight times the national figures.
[00:03:43.940]If you're from a place where I grew up
[00:03:45.610]in rural South Carolina for high school,
[00:03:47.840]I graduated in 1990.
[00:03:49.690]In 1990, Williamsburg County Hospital in South Carolina
[00:03:53.450]which is a very small town closed its maternity ward.
[00:03:56.980]To this day there's one OBGYN.
[00:03:59.210]And if you wanna have a child,
[00:04:00.710]that means if you have access to a car
[00:04:03.080]you have to drive to the next county or the next city,
[00:04:06.590]which is almost 40 miles away.
[00:04:08.121]All of these are factors that contribute
[00:04:11.040]to this black maternal health crisis
[00:04:13.040]in addition to, unfortunately people believe
[00:04:15.730]in racial fictions like black people have thicker skin,
[00:04:17.840]or don't experience pain during illness, at childbirth,
[00:04:21.300]or, you know, when they come in and say,
[00:04:23.440]wait, I'm really in pain, I have sickle cell.
[00:04:26.100]No, you don't you want opiates because you're drug users.
[00:04:29.310]And you know historically black people have used
[00:04:32.420]illegal narcotics less than any other group.
[00:04:35.330]But some of the racial fictions around that,
[00:04:37.430]even though the statistics show otherwise
[00:04:40.330]are that they're trying to gain the system.
[00:04:42.390]And so all of these factors are coming into play.
[00:04:45.380]And so what I am thankful and hopeful about,
[00:04:48.570]is that medical institutions, medical organizations
[00:04:52.370]like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
[00:04:55.190]are finally saying, okay we have to change this,
[00:04:57.810]because the numbers are dismal.
[00:04:59.220]We should not be the most dangerous country
[00:05:01.530]in the developed world for women of color to have children.
[00:05:04.900]Like we have got to change those sets.
[00:05:06.460]And so they've been hard at work
[00:05:08.050]at trying to reverse those numbers.
[00:05:10.693]Number four, when Cooper Owens speaks to medical students,
[00:05:14.630]she helps build a new generation of professionals
[00:05:17.450]who are more aware of racism and discrimination
[00:05:21.490]I can educate people, I can provide context.
[00:05:24.550]And that's the wonderful thing about being a historian.
[00:05:27.300]It's not about big names and dates,
[00:05:29.300]and those kinds of things.
[00:05:30.133]It's how do I help someone understand the context
[00:05:33.780]so that they are now equipped
[00:05:36.260]with the most accurate information that they have,
[00:05:40.170]to be able to make better and smarter choices.
[00:05:44.390]And number five, Cooper Owens research and scholarship
[00:05:48.610]have garnered attention across the country
[00:05:51.060]and effected popular culture.
[00:05:53.500]Her book, Medical Bandage, was used as a reference
[00:05:56.420]for Lovecraft Country, and HBO series that explores racism
[00:06:00.480]in the United States.
[00:06:02.130]The fact of the matter is someone in Hollywood,
[00:06:04.720]someone in HBO paid attention,
[00:06:07.300]and they were able to weave this into an entertaining story
[00:06:11.280]based on the past, based on something that's factual.
[00:06:15.700]So that was really quite enjoyable for the few moments,
[00:06:19.320]before I had to go great again
[00:06:24.860]That's Faculty 101, Five Things with Deirdre Cooper Owens.
[00:06:32.920]Faculty 101 is produced
[00:06:34.680]by the university of Nebraska Lincoln.
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