Black doctors face threats as they battle for health equity

Hate mail, death threats, and social media trolling have been reported by doctors.

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The continued efforts to restrict how the nation talks about race has spilled over into the medical profession, resulting in threats against Black doctors fighting for equity.

Some doctors have reported that they’ve been trolled on social media, one has had a death threat spray-painted on their front door, and hate mail has been sent out to threaten others. 

The hate mail “terrified me,” Dr. Camara Jones told NBC News. “I hid for two weeks.”

Jones was at the center of uproar from conservative activists who opposed a training program she developed on the public health impacts of systematic racism. The program, for Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff, was canceled by the Trump administration in September 2020. 

The threatening behavior comes as the American Medical Association (AMA) has made several moves to promote health equity. 

The AMA has acknowledged its role in discrimination and called racism an urgent public health threat. The organization said it “will actively work to dismantle racist and discriminatory policies and practices across all of health care.”

There’s a historical need to do so. Decades of research shows Black people and people of color suffer from health care inequities. Research reported in the Washington Post shows that Black people may be under-treated for pain. Another study, reported in Nature, showed that Black people were less likely than whites to get care for complex medical needs.

As part of its efforts, the AMA created a chief health equity officer role to fight racial disparities in healthcare. According to NBC News, Dr. Aletha Maybank filled the position in 2019, and by 2021, she was already facing opposition.

Dr. Aletha Maybank (Via YouTube Screen Shot)

In 2021, the AMA released a communication guide designed to foster equity-focused language practices. But, conservatives pounced, accusing the AMA of adopting “critical race theory,” and embracing “leftist” language.

Maybank found herself the victim of threats so vile that the AMA hired a security detail for her and scrubbed her online information, she told NBC.

“When it comes that close, it’s really scary,” she told NBC. “But I think it’s just really important that people do know about it — I’m not the only one.” 

The AMA recognized that the threats were a problem and in February condemned intimidation against health providers.

It called out a January incident in which a group of Neo-Nazis protested against two doctors fighting for greater health equity. The protestors called the equity effort “anti-white.”

“Society needs to protect its citizens from individuals or groups that encourage and advocate violence as a means for resolving deep social issues,” the AMA said. 

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