“Me and White Supremacy, Day 1: My White Privilege…and Healthcare”

I’m on Day 1 of Layla Saad’s, Me and White Supremacy.  In response to Saad’s question, “What negative experiences has your white privilege protected you from throughout your life?” I named illness due to inattentive healthcare professionals or lack of health insurance.  In fact, healthcare providers often have been more vigilant than I have been when it comes to my health.

A case in point.  After wonky, but inconclusive mammograms and ultrasounds last summer, I was referred to a breast surgeon who specializes in caring for people at high-risk for breast cancer.  In our initial conversation, the doctor recommended an MRI, not expecting to find cancer, but just to see what might be there.  Thankfully, the MRI detected the cancer in my left breast at a very early stage.

My surgeon’s vigilance–after a long history of vigilance by health care professionals because of my family’s history of breast cancer–led to the early detection of this cancer, which meant I received treatment before the cancer had the opportunity to grow.  In December, the tumor was removed.  I underwent four weeks of radiation.  My mammogram in July detected no abnormalities.

As I reflected on my experience last Fall and Winter, I wondered if the experience would have been similar if I were Black.  Then I remembered a story I’d seen recently on PBS Newshour.  Here’s part of the transcript.

William Brangham:  For many years, Houston resident Lakeisha Parker was among the uninsured. She was a certified nursing assistant.

  • Lakeshia Parker:  I was proud of that work. I enjoyed doing it, because I love to be able to help people.  So, what I would do is go into people’s homes after their surgeries or illnesses, and assist them with getting back to life, daily activities of living, bathing, fixing them a small meal… 
  •  
  • William Brangham:  But Parker says the pay wasn’t great. She says the most she ever earned was about $13 an hour. And it never came with health insurance she could afford.
  •  
  • Lakeshia Parker:  I’m actually working in health care, and can’t afford to pay it. That’s not right.
  •  
  • William Brangham:  So, like many, Parker went for years without checkups or seeing a regular doctor. Too expensive, she said. But then she discovered a lump the size of a tangerine in her breast. It was malignant cancer.  Parker found a Houston clinic that would treat her on a sliding scale, based on her income. Only after the cancer diagnosis did she qualify for a special Medicaid program.  So, the tumor, along with 33 lymph nodes, were removed. While surgery was a success, it, along with the chemotherapy and radiation, left her unable to use one of her arms like before.
  •  
  • William Brangham:  Do you think, if you had had health insurance you would have found this sooner, you would have been going to the doctor sooner?
  •  
  • Lakeshia Parker:  If I would have had insurance for me at that time, health care that I would have been able to afford, I would have easily accepted it.  But, again, it comes the question of having somewhere to live, having something to eat, gas to get back and forth to work. So…
  •  
  • William Brangham:  Those were the choices you were wrestling with?
  •  
  • Lakeshia Parker:  Of course. You know, those are everyday life choices that a lot of people have to make based on their income.
  •  
  • William Brangham:  The weakness in her arm cost her her job. With no money, she lost her apartment.
  •  
  • Lakeshia Parker:  And you become homeless if you cannot pay rent.
  •  
  • William Brangham:  Parker is now homeless, unemployed, and at the time of our interview living in a shelter.
  •  
  • Lakeshia Parker:  We are still citizens.  We pay taxes.  It makes me feel that we don’t matter.

Update:  Lakeisha Parker has a new job at Amazon. It has benefits, and she will soon be moving into her own apartment.  https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/is-u-s-health-care-the-best-or-least-effective-system-in-the-modern-world

************

Being diagnosed with cancer was scary…but when I read Lakeshia’s story?  I realize that my White privilege has insulated me from some of the really scary effects of serious diagnoses for many of my fellow citizens.  I see now that it was a luxury–a luxury–only to have to focus on my treatment.  I didn’t have to worry about a place to live.  I knew I would have food to eat and the medications I needed.  I knew we’d be able to pay the bills that came.  I had two people in the house to care for me.  A congregation of people willing to help out.  Enough sick and vacation days that I didn’t worry about losing income.  I knew I’d be able physically to do my job once treatment ended.  I was indeed lucky.  Well, maybe not so much lucky as privileged.  Yes.  Because of my White privilege, dealing with breast cancer was little more than a “blip” for me.  A humbling realization.

Ringing the bell after my last radiation treatment, 3/5/2020.

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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