Black and Blue: The Origins and Consequences of Medical Racism by John Hoberman [Matt Wood Review]

Black and Blue: The Origins and Consequences of Medical Racism by John Hoberman [Matt Wood Review]

TriQuarterly: a journal of writing, art, and cultural inquiry from Northwestern University

Matt Wood, Book Review Editor

We’ve heard the statistics on black and white mortality rates in the United States. Black infants are up to three times as likely to die as babies of other races. Black patients have lower survival rates from cancer and are hospitalized twice as often as whites for preventable conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

How does this happen in the twenty-first century, when a black man is the president of the United States and three of the last four surgeons general have been black? Why do whites receive more potentially lifesaving cardiac procedures than blacks? Why are black patients less likely to have cancer surgery recommended to them? Why are black patients with diabetes and circulatory problems more likely to have limbs amputated?

Racism, says John Hoberman. In his scathing book Black and Blue: The Origins and Consequences of Medical Racism, he documents how the racial prejudices of the larger American society have influenced the diagnosis and treatment of black patients over the past century, and how those practices continue today. The book is a relentless and thoroughly researched account of racial discrimination by the largely white medical establishment, composed of medical school faculty, editorial boards of scientific journals, and professional associations such as the American Medical Association that develop medical school curricula and influence decisions about research. While Hoberman offers an unsatisfying solution to these problems, the book is thorough enough to make anyone—physician, layperson, black, white—question his or her own racial prejudices and assumptions…

…Hoberman calls this “racialization,” or using pseudoscientific rationales to define racial differences in physiology. The idea that blacks are more primitive human beings than whites stemmed from the same historical racist ideas that European colonizers used to justify black African slavery. This later developed into subtler stereotyping. Conditions associated with the stresses of modern “civilized” life were labeled “white.” Whites supposedly suffered more from myopia and other vision problems caused by the strain of reading too much. White businessmen were prone to digestive problems and ulcers because they shouldered “the burdens and responsibilities of administration and management in business and politics.” Blacks, on the other hand, supposedly possessed an innate physical “hardiness” that made them less susceptible to these “white” diseases. Instead, they were allegedly prone to sexually transmitted infections, drug abuse, and alcoholism because of their “careless” and “primitive” lifestyles. Hoberman points out a classic example of endometriosis. As late as 1950, some doctors believed that it occurred only in white women, because they assumed sexually transmitted diseases were the source of any gynecological problems in black women…

Read the entire review here.

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