Implicit Bias Reserved for Africans

Fair and equal treatment is the base line expected when it comes to seeking medical attention and is paramount for us to feel comfortable. There’s more that unites us biologically than divides us. So my question for you is, why is it still, African bodies are viewed and treated as some medical mystery, and our genetic differences are not accounted for.  

The Hippocratic Oath is taken by doctors worldwide and binds them to a strict code of medical ethics and not to do any harm. The Oath is a long-standing vow of medical ethics. It focuses on two key principles: helping the sick and protecting patients from personal or. social damage and injustice.[mfn] Finding this out, one is left wondering why black people and people of colour are disproportionately affected by implicit bias within the medical field. Merriam-Webster defines implicit bias as “a bias or prejudice that is present but not consciously held or recognized”[mfn]

Across the board, black people receive significantly fewer doses of pain medication as compared to their white counterparts and are less likely to be believed when it comes to pain, when asked for their reasoning behind this, medical students repeated unfounded stereotypes about Black people’s thicker skin and less sensitive nerve endings.[mfn] In the United States, these opinions have been carried down for centuries and can be traced back to racist doctors and slave owners in the 19th century that spewed these baseless claims in order to substantiate the crude experiments conducted on black people.[mfn] This created an implicit bias that can still be seen in how black bodies are viewed today worldwide.

Only recently in the beginning of the pandemic did we see French doctor Jean-Paul Mira publicly claim that testing of the then new Covid vaccine should be carried out on people in Africa. Mira asked “If I could be provocative, shouldn’t we do this study in Africa where there are no masks, treatment, or intensive care, a little bit like we did in certain AIDS studies or with prostitutes?. . . We tried things on prostitutes because they are highly exposed and do not protect themselves.”

These remarks caused public outcry from Africans stating that we aren’t guinea pigs and testing labs for the West to just experiment on. Mira has since apologised for the remarks he made but this highlights a deeper issue we see with the West and its view on Africans and African bodies as disposable and malleable.

It comes as no surprise then, that in the recent 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, four female African athletes were barred from competing in their respective sports and the reason cited being that “they have too much (naturally occurring) Testosterone (T) in their bodies”.[mfn] Margaret Wambui, a middle distance runner who specialises in the 800m from Nyeri, Kenya is one of the women disqualified. These women, along with countless others are pressured to undergo medical procedures to alter their hormone levels so they can be eligible to compete. Associate professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at Deakin University, Severine Lamon says research on female mice and human women alike show that naturally occurring T doesn’t enhance muscle mass nor does it enhance performance.[mfn]

The question then stands, is this now a matter of policing our bodies or keeping the integrity of the sport intact, especially considering how the Olympics has a strong stance against doping or taking substances to alter your performance. We need to take a stance and be louder in our support for our women and distaste in World Athletics, the governing body for Olympics. The goal post is constantly moved and arbitrary rules constantly brought up in order to prevent our athletes getting what’s rightfully theirs especially when  Micheal Phelps is praised for having genetic differences that make him a better athlete.[mfn]

Clearly the effects of colonialism and its barbaric ways of thinking are alive and well today and disproportionately affects Africans. It’s up to us to raise our voices and stand with one other and speak out for what’s right. Whether it’s in medicine, sports, education and other sectors alike.

Footnotes

  1. David P. Steensma and Hagop Kantarjian, “Relevance of the Hippocratic Oath in the 21st Century – the ASCO Post,” Ascopost.com, October 15, 2014, https://ascost.com/issues/october-15-2014/relevance-of-the-hippocratic-oath-in-the-21st-century.aspx.
  2. Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “implicit bias,” accessed October 22, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/implicit%20bias.
  3. “How Structural Racism Affects Healthcare,” Www.stkate.edu, June 15, 2021, https://www.stkate.edu/academics/healthcare-degrees/racism-in-healthcare.
  4. Kelly M. Hoffman et al., “Racial Bias in Pain Assessment and Treatment Recommendations, and False Beliefs about Biological Differences between Blacks and Whites,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 16 (April 4, 2016): 4296–4301, doi:10.1073/pnas.1516047113.
  5. FRANCIS AKHALBEY, “Outrage after Five African Female Athletes Banned from Olympic Events over Testosterone,” Face2Face Africa, July 5, 2021, https://face2faceafrica.com/article/like-caster-semenya-five-african-female-athletes-banned-from-olympic-events-over-testosterone1234.
  6. .https://theconversation.com/do-naturally-high-testosterone-levels-equal-stronger-female-athletic-performance-not-necessarily-160009
  7. Monica Hesse, “Perspective | We Celebrated Michael Phelps’s Genetic Differences. Why Punish Caster Semenya for Hers?,” The Washington Post, May 2, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/we-celebrated-michael-phelpss-genetic-differences-why-punish-caster-semenya-for-hers/2019/05/02/93d08c8c-6c2b-11e9-be3a-33217240a539_story.html