by James A. Bacon
The Woke Revolution’s takeover of K-12 schools, the criminal justice system, higher ed, the media, the military, the C-suite, museums other cultural institutions has been highly visible, playing out in blogs and the media for all to see. The conquest of the healthcare system has attracted far less attention, though arguably it is the most consequential. After all, human lives are at stake.
Many U.S. medical schools have embraced the idea that American healthcare is systemically racist, that White physicians and other providers are infected with racial bias, that racism accounts for the disparities in health outcomes between Blacks and Whites, and that the only antidote to racism is “anti-racism,” warns Stanley Goldfarb, author of “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me By My Pronouns: Why Turning Doctors into Social Justice Warriors Is Destroying American Medicine.”
Goldfarb bases his critique on his own experiences as a nephrologist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, an extensive review of the academic literature on racial disparities, and his role as founder of Do No Harm, a nonprofit formed to combat racial essentialism in medicine. Wokeness, he argues, is profoundly destructive. By misdiagnosing racial disparities in health outcomes, the anti-racism movement focuses attention on a nearly non-existent problem and distracts from real causes and solutions.
The predictable result: Woke medicine will harm African Americans and other marginalized groups it purports to help. In that regard, it is similar to woke K-12 education, where the racial achievement gap is getting worse; woke criminal justice, which leads to more African American homicides; woke colleges and universities, where African Americans feel less sense of acceptance and belonging than in years past; and woke everything else, the poisoned fruit of which is grievance, resentment, and alienation.
Though national in its reach, Do No Harm is based in Richmond, and it is making inroads in Virginia’s medical community. It is an example of the kind of grassroots organization emerging, like antibodies, in reaction to a harmful invasive ideology. Another organization, the Virginia Medical Freedom Alliance, has formed recently to combat “medical tyranny,” although its focus has been less on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and more on the suppression of dissenting views regarding COVID-19 policy.
“Replacing rigorous, scienced-based medical care with ideologically driven demands of activists is dangerous. Woke discrimination hurts the people it claims to help,” says Executive Director Kristina Rasmussen.
Goldfarb addressed the medical community in Richmond this spring. He returns to Virginia July 12 to speak in Charlottesville. That speech, “How to Save Medicine from Identity Politics,” is open to the public. Click here to register.
I had a chance to interview Goldfarb earlier this week. “Anti-racism” is an obsession of cultural and professional elites that accomplishes nothing useful for minorities, he says. Exercises in moral self-flagellation don’t vaccinate a single Black child or reduce the glucose levels of a single Black diabetic. What the continual rhetoric about White racism does accomplish, he contends, is foster Blacks’ mistrust of the healthcare system.
Blacks tend to seek healthcare treatment later in a medical malady’s progression than do other racial groups. Goldfarb thinks that tendency arises from mistrust. When discussing racial disparities in vaccinations during the COVID-19 epidemic, woke media coverage did not help matters by harping on racial disparities and continually reminding readers about the infamous Tuskegee Institute syphilis trials — which ended 50 years ago — that exposed Black patients to harmful experimental treatments without their knowledge.
To benefit from healthcare, says Goldfarb, “you have to show up.” If you distrust the system, you’re less likely to show up until the malady has developed into more severe condition that is harder to treat.
Perhaps the most widely publicized racial disparity in healthcare is the fact that Black women are more likely to die from complications stemming from pregnancy and childbirth. Yet poor mothers have access to the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program for pregnant women. “All they need to do is find time for a prenatal visit,” says Goldfarb.
Why are poor Black women less likely to make their appointments? Perhaps they find it harder to get off work. Perhaps they have trouble finding a ride to the doctor’s office. Perhaps they forget their appointments. Those tangible obstacles do not stem from racism, Goldfarb says. But they can be addressed. If the goal is to improve medical outcomes for pregnant Black women, mandating implicit bias training for physicians doesn’t accomplish a thing. “If black women aren’t showing up for mammograms, send out vans to give the mammograms!”
A related conceit is that Black people should have Black doctors. While there is evidence the Black patients do prefer Black doctors, there is no evidence that Black physicians actually provide better health outcomes for Black patients, Goldfarb says. If “anti-racist” rhetoric persuades Black people that they will receive inferior healthcare from White doctors, it will aggravate their mistrust of the system. The fact remains that, for the foreseeable future, there won’t be enough Black physicians to serve the Black community.
Aside from such pragmatic considerations, Goldfarb finds the idea morally repugnant. What if White patients adopted the same logic? What if White people said they preferred White doctors? “We don’t want patients seeking doctors of a particular race,” he says. “That’s an un-American idea.”
Yet another unproductive idea is that “fat shaming” is racist. Many Blacks have a so-called Southern diet loaded with starches and fat that contributes to obesity, which, of course, is associated with heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. In the past, doctors admonished patients to change their diet, exercise and lose weight. But woke ideology considers such recommendations as a form of blaming the victim, hence racist. The spreading idea of “fat acceptance” does nothing to encourage obese people of whatever race to take charge of their health and fitness.
The corrosive effect of wokeism threatens the quality of education for the broader population as well. Wokeism threatens to undermine the integrity of medical instruction and research. Medical school curricula are teaching more social justice and less hard science. Academic standards are declining. Political and ideological considerations are driving research funding. The future of medicine that Goldfarb describes is worrisome indeed.
This column was published originally in Bacon’s Rebellion.