Why is Black History Month Important in the Diabetes Community?


 

Black History Month began in the United States in 1976, but do you know its origins? In 1926, historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week, aligning with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass. Per the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Woodson had two goals:

  1. Use history to prove to white Americans that Black people played important roles in the creation of America and deserved to be treated as equals.
  2. Increase the visibility of all facets of Black life in America, particularly in a time when news outlets tended to only highlight the negatives, skipping over rich cultures, academics, family, and more. 

So why is this important to the diabetes community? Not often, but every once in a while when we share Black experiences of diabetes on social media, we get asked “why are you making this about race? Diabetes is hard for everyone.” 

Diabetes is hard for everyone, but for white people with diabetes, skin color is not one of the things making it extra hard. Black and other people of color in the in the diabetes community carry diabetes, plus the impacts of biased healthcare providers who make assumptions based on race, extra hurdles caused by systemic racism in healthcare coverage and access to diabetes technology, and thoughts like “will this law enforcement officer think my insulin pump is a gun just because I’m Black?” (which we have heard from an alarming number of people in our community). 

So, during Black History Month, we in the diabetes community have both an opportunity and responsibility to actively work against the barriers that make diabetes care more difficult for Black people, while also celebrating all of the fantastic Black people in the diabetes community for exactly who they are. Black people have made tremendous contributions to medicine, science, and research that is often not celebrated in equal measure to their white counterparts. But perhaps more importantly, no one should have to make tremendous contributions just to be recognized and valued, and so often, Black people in the diabetes community are overlooked.

Similarly to Woodson’s original vision, Black History Month gives us concentrated time to not only celebrate and recognize Black people throughout our community, elevating stories that so many of us have never heard, but also dig into where we can and must do better throughout the year. We are a reflection of what and who we choose to celebrate and tell the stories of. So if we are leaving Black people out, what does that say about us?

On Instagram, we asked you why Black History Month is important in the diabetes community specifically. You let us know about the importance of representation, and people being able to see themselves reflected in a community:

“Representation and visibility matters, especially for an already alienating disease.” 

“Diabetes is diverse in who it affects and we need every skin color repped to see change!”

“The face of diabetes is diverse and if avoided, crucial stories go unheard.” 

“When people can’t see themselves reflected in a community, they learn not to talk about their issue or to feel shame.”

“To remind people that diabetes isn’t just for white children and aging relatives.”

You let us know that you recognize disparities in diabetes care for Black people:

“From what I’ve heard, Black people don’t get the same level of treatment as white T1Ds do.”

“To educate myself about how to better serve the Black diabetes community.”

And you let us know the importance of uplifting stories:

“I like meeting other Black advocates in the community and hearing their stories.”

“To spread awareness on how [diabetes] impacts us in all areas of our lives.” 

Throughout Black History Month and beyond, it is each of our responsibility to recognize where we can lean in and to continue to examine our own biases. This work is not limited to one month, but we aim to use this month as an opportunity to pause and create a moment for celebrating Black people in the diabetes community.

We invite you to continue sharing your thoughts on the importance of Black History Month in the diabetes community, letting us know about people and organizations doing important work on behalf of Black people in the diabetes space, finding community online, and tuning in to events like our monthly Community Table. This month on February 25th, our panel guests will be talking about Nutrition, Health + Wellness in the Black Diabetes Community – you can register for the event here!

WRITTEN BY Lala Jackson, POSTED 02/04/21, UPDATED 02/05/21

Lala is a communications strategist who has lived with Type 1 diabetes since 1997. She worked across med-tech, business incubation, library tech, and wellness before landing in the T1D non-profit space in 2016. A bit of a nomad, she grew up primarily bouncing between Hawaii and Washington state and graduated from the University of Miami. You can usually find her reading, preferably on a beach.