by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Is studying racial disparities in health care just another example of white supremacy run amok? A recently published investigative report suggests the answer is yes.
“‘Health equity tourists’: How white scholars are colonizing research on health disparities,” reads the headline of the report, which appeared last week on the health care-focused website Stat. Such research is now “in vogue,” writes national science correspondent Usha Lee McFarling, who appears to be white. “Journals are clamoring for it, the media is covering it, and the National Institutes of Health, after publicly apologizing for giving the field short shrift, recently announced it would unleash nearly $100 million for research on the topic.”
Isn’t that good? Not really. The heightened focus on racial health disparities has created “a gold rush mentality where researchers with little or no background or training in health equity research, often white and already well-funded, are rushing in to scoop up grants and publish papers,” to the detriment of BIPOC researchers who are eager to push back against what they see as a form of colonialism.
“Medicine does that, they Columbus everything,” said Monica McLemore, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who is pictured in the article wearing a shirt that reads “Educated & Blaccinated.” She is concerned about the influx of white researchers interested in her field of study—reproductive health in marginalized communities—and what she describes as a concerted effort to “invisibilize the essential work of women of color.”
One particularly “glaring example” cited in the report was the Journal of the American Medical Association‘s (JAMA) publication in August of a special issue focused on “racial and ethnic health disparities in medicine.” Rather than being celebrated for highlighting these issues, the journal was denounced as “an illustration of the structural racism embedded in academic publishing” because none of the five research papers included in the special issue had a lead author who was black.