In fall 2020, I reported a story about two HBCU presidents in New Orleans who were subject to a huge backlash after suggesting to members of their communities that they enroll in a Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial. While surprising to some, the incident was emblematic of a legacy of medical mistrust in the Black community borne from a troubling history of racism and inequity in medicine.
For this first episode of “Color Code,” a new STAT podcast, we take a look at this important issue of mistrust and its impacts today. Many people are familiar with the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment, a 40-year study in which Black men with syphilis were not offered treatment for the disease despite it becoming widely available during the time. As this episode explains, this tragedy is just one example out of many, many more.
History is rife with instances of medical mistreatment — both on the individual and community-wide levels — that have had harmful effects on how Black Americans view the health care system. In this episode, we speak with the researchers and doctors who are trying to repair the relationship between Black people and the medical institution.
We hear from Nicole Bowden, a military veteran who was shaken by traumatic interactions with her doctors. Arnethea Sutton, a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University, reflects on the troubling history of how her own institution allowed medical students to perform dissections on Black cadavers without consent in the mid-1800s. Terri Laws, an assistant professor of African and African American studies at the University of Michigan, provides insight into the role that churches have played as a trusted messenger in Black communities. And finally, Reed Tuckson, the co-founder of the Black Coalition Against Covid, explains his experiences as a Black doctor working to get Black communities vaccinated. He tells us about what gives him hope to continue with his mission despite the long-standing challenges.
A transcript of this episode is available here.
To read more on some of the topics discussed in the episode:
- Two Black university leaders urged their campuses to join a Covid-19 vaccine trial. The backlash was swift, Nicholas St. Fleur’s first story for STAT.
- A news article on the wells: ‘This is sacred ground’: Panels commemorate 19th-century human remains found in an MCV Campus well, from Virginia Commonwealth University.
- Find community updates, along with a history, on the East Marshall Street Well Project.
- The return of the bodies to their resting place is recounted in A Journey Home: The remains of more than 50 African Americans discovered in 1994 on VCU’s campus have been returned to Richmond.
- Watch a synopsis of Shawn O. Utsey’s documentary on the wells, called “Until The Well Runs Dry: Medicine & the Exploitation of Black Bodies.”
- Learn about the Black Coalition Against COVID, co-founded by Reed Tuckson.
This podcast was made possible with support from the Commonwealth Fund