A trio of physicians from Wayne State University School of Medicine call on the medical and scientific communities to confront and end a legacy of scientific racism in research, medical education, clinical practice and health policy by “depathologizing and by humanizing âthe American black bodies.
In “Drapetomania of modern times: denouncing scientific racism”, published in the Journal of General Medicine, the authors – Ijeoma Nnodim Opara, MD, FAAP, assistant professor of internal medicine-pediatrics; Latonya Riddle-Jones, MD, MPH assistant professor of internal medicine-pediatrics; and Nakia Allen, MD, FAAP, clinical associate professor of pediatrics – note that racism in medicine has “deep historical roots in white supremacy and anti-Black, particularly the pathologization of black bodies through pseudoscientific claims of the biological significance of the socio-political construction which is “race”, which is often mistakenly confused with “genetic ancestry”.
These roots, they write, developed branches that continue to expand into medical science and medicine to this day, particularly in how science frames racial disparities in health due to biological differences. between racial categories.
âRacism, not race, is the vector of disease and health disparities. Racist policies, such as redlining and the ‘war on drugs’ and the ‘war on crime’, inform the housing, education, criminal justice, health and economic systems, and determine the exposure of a community to social and environmental factors that drive health disparities through direct effects, chronic toxic stress, and epigenetic mechanisms, âthe authors said. âIt’s the contemporary version of the pathologization of darkness and normal responses to chronic intergenerational trauma, oppression and exploitation. This reinforces the false theory of supposed inferiority of blacks. This is modern Drapetomania.
Now recognized as pseudo-scientific nonsense, Drapetomania was first concocted by Dr. Samuel Cartwright in 1851 to pathologize escaped black slaves. He claimed that enslaved blacks had inherently smaller brains and blood vessels that represented “indolence” and “barbarism.” His prescribed “cure” and prophylactic treatment for the false condition “took the devil away from them.”
The absurd condition remained in some medical texts until the early 1900s and was used – along with other bogus claims – to support racist perceptions and attitudes toward black Americans.
Some of these perceptions continue in medicine, the authors write, despite the fact that in 2003 the Human Genome Project showed that race lacks a genetic basis and that humans are 99.9% genetically identical.
“The belief that differences in disease outcomes are due to genetic differences between racialized groups still plagues contemporary medicine and science, and unfortunately continues to be funded, published, taught and practiced,” they state. “The use of race to measure human biological differences stubbornly persists, and as a result these structures and systems are absolved of responsibility, reinforced and perpetuated.”
To eliminate scientific racism, they call for identifying it and excluding it from clinical algorithms and medical decision-making equations; remove it from the publication process through peer review and anti-racist writing; transforming medical and science education from undergraduate studies to faculty development; and advocacy among academic partnerships with patients, marginalized communities and policy makers who prioritize the social and structural determinants of health to positively impact health outcomes.
“In doing so and in a spirit of professional humility, we can dismantle scientific racism in the standards, policies, processes and practices of our current systems of research, clinical practice, public health and medical education.” , wrote the doctors. âThen we can demonstrate our reliability and establish equitable partnerships with BIPOC communities (black, indigenous and people of color) while providing quality and humanizing care to all members of the human family. “