The Racist History of Gynecology
by Allison Danish, MPH
J. Marion Sims, the "father of modern gynecology," gained his title by performing unanesthetized surgical experiments on enslaved Black women. This, among other sinister pockets of medical histories, has lead to well-founded distrust in the medical system.
Black Americans are almost twice as likely to believe physicians wouldn't fully explain participation in research and 30% more likely to believe their physicians exposed them to unnecessary risks.
Along with environmental, socioeconomic, and psychological factors that are reminiscent of slavery, segregation, and ongoing systemic and interpersonal racism— Black women experience some of the worst gynecologic and birth outcomes in the United States.
Black women are 3-4x more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women (although incidence is about the same).
Black women are 7.6x more likely to contract gonorrhea than white women.
Our healthcare systems are set up & designed to fail Black people, especially Black people with vaginas.
So, how do we do better?
Support and Amplify
Support organization like California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (cmqcc.org).
CMQCC has developed evidence-based quality improvement toolkits for the leading causes of preventable death and complications for mothers and infants, including toolkits on: Cardiovascular Disease, Early Elective Delivery, Hemorrhage (1st and 2nd editions), Maternal Venous Thromboembolism, Preeclampsia, and Supporting Vaginal Birth and Reducing Primary Cesareans.
Donate to the Black Women's Health Imperative, the only national organization dedicated solely to improving the health and wellness of our nation’s 21 million Black women and girls (bwhi.org).
Get involved with reproductive justice organizations, like In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda (blackrj.org), a policy initiative dedicated to securing reproductive justice for Black women and girls.
Owens, D.C. (2017). Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology. University of Georgia Press.
Corbie-Smith, G., Thomas, S. B., St. George, D. M. M. (2002). Distrust, Race, and Research. Arch Intern Med, 162, 2458-2463.
Prather, C., Fuller, T. R., Jeffries, IV, W. L., Marshall, K. J., Howell, A. V., Belyue-Umole, A., King, W. (2018). Racism, African American Women, and Their Sexual and Reproductive Health: A Review of Historical and Contemporary Evidence and Implications for Health Equity. Health Equity, 2(1), 249-259.
Howell, E. A., Zetilin, J. (2017). Quality of Care and Disparities in Obstetrics. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am, 44(1), 13-25.Richardson, L. C., Henley, J., Miller, J. W., Massetti, G., Thomas, C. C. (2016). Patterns and Trends in Age-Specific Black-White Differences in Breast Cancer Incidence and Mortality - United State, 1999-2014. Weekly, 65(40), 1093-1098.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, July 24). STDs in Racial and Ethnic Minorities.