For the past few weeks, HelloBeautiful has covered the stories of people of color who have felt the effects of racial bias as they seek treatment from medical professionals. As a part of the series, we examine the solutions, starting with the work of sex educator, Ericka Hart. Hart’s work educates doctors and physicians on the history of medical racism and how bias still haunts our medical system to this day. With these educational tools, the hope is that doctors will approach their patients of color with more patience, attention and care. We sat down with Ericka to discuss her work and how she hopes this system of training will infiltrate the medical system.
HB: Can you describe implicit bias training in medicine? How does it differ (if it does) from what some cities are trying to implement with cops to prevent shootings?
Ericka: I am actually not entirely certain how often this is happening nor the details of what occurs. I know that reproductive justice is beginning to infiltrate medical schools, clinics, and hospitals – but there is no mandated program that requires new and/or tenured medical staff to participate in racial or social justice trainings. I have facilitated these trainings in medical schools and public health programs, and most of the participants would share that they wish everyone was required to receive these types of trainings alluding to that they do not happen often.
HB: How did you get involved in the educational aspect of it?
Ericka: I have always found that my activism lies in a classroom/educating people. I have my Masters of Education in Human Sexuality – and my focus was always in how sex and racial justice are essentially inseparable. I hadn’t had too many experiences with the medical world for most of my life, until I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28. I saw firsthand how racism/sexism/homophobia etc were very present. I have been interested in impacting and making a shift in that area ever since.
HB: What do classes consist of?
Ericka: My work consists of looking at the history of medicine, specifically in how black and brown bodies have been used as guinea pigs for major medical advancement. Some of these examples are not so historical, some examples are as early as 2003. The intention of the history lesson is to ensure that these practices will not be repeated and to look at what may have black and brown people hesitant to go to the doctor. We also look at the ways in which the gender binary is in full swing from the moment a patient fills out paperwork to the questions they are asked with the doctor.
HB: What type of biases do you see some doctors enter the class with that need to be undone?
Ericka: Doctors walk in with racial, gender, and ability bias, they operate inside of what is called the medical model of disability. They are interested in fixing you, or using your body to fix someone else. So, if a doctor’s job is to relieve someone of pain and they are a black cisgender woman, they may not believe the pain she is experiencing because an idea that has persisted about black people created by the field of medicine during slavery, black people don’t feel pain or that they have high pain thresholds.
HB: When do you think medical bias against patients is developed in doctors?
Ericka: There are more white doctors/nurses in the US than any other identity and that is due to systemic racism, so their presence in the profession is a function of the same systems that they perpetuate.
HB: How do you gauge the effectiveness of the educational training?
Ericka: I do pre and post test mostly. They have been pretty effective tools to measure what participants are walking away with.
HB: What dangers do you think patients face if their physician doesn’t undergo this training?
Ericka: I think we see the impacts of not having these trainings with the most recent press around black cisgender women dying at increasing rates during childbirth. Even the language around their deaths is rooted in not reckoning with that their death is directly related to systemic white supremacy.
Ericka Hart (pronouns: she/they) is a Black Queer Femme activist, writer, highly acclaimed speaker and award-winning sexuality educator with a Master’s of Education in Human Sexuality from Widener University. Ericka’s work broke ground when she went topless showing her double mastectomy scars at Afropunk Fest 2016. Since then, she has spoken at colleges and universities across the country, been featured in countless digital and print publications including Essence, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, Refinery 29, and has a running PSA on Viceland. Ericka is currently an adjunct at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and calls Brooklyn, her partner and several plants (one of which is named Whitney Houston) home.