Black History Month: Fight the Power

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Susan Cole, Sophia Forum Trustee writes about health inequality faced by black women in the UK.

As a Black British woman and mother of four, every month is Black History Month in my household. Every month my senses are assaulted by insidious institutional racism and grotesque stereotyping in the media. Call it out and we’re accused of having “chips on our shoulders” ungrateful for the tokenistic morsels thrown our way. Chilling far right voices, always there but previously muffled, are now unleashed to openly spew racist vitriol as BREXIT fuelled hate crime sky rockets.

But hey-ho. This month, Black History Month, is apparently the appropriate time to raise concerns. The outrageous health inequalities faced by black women concerns me. Black women are more likely to experience mental issues than any other group, but less likely to get treatment. We are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer than white women. But sexual health inequality faced by black women is by far the most shocking.

Black women are dramatically more likely to be affected by HIV than white women. Nearly 80% of women accessing HIV care in the UK are from black communities, yet were significantly more likely to be diagnosed late. Black women can face devastating triple discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and HIV status. This is regularly compounded by harrowing gender based violence and crippling self-stigma.

I can continue to spew unsettling statistics, slump into the inevitability of victimhood – but enough. We as black women can’t wait for some benevolent benefactor to “empower” us. We are not victims, we are survivors and thrivers. We are the role models to our daughters and must wrestle back control when it’s been taken from us. Let’s self- indulge in a little “Black Girl Magic”.

Clichéd maybe, but knowledge is certainly power where it comes to our sexual health as black women. We are often lazily dismissed as “hard to reach”, so we need to ensure our voices are heard and presence felt. Shake off sexual health clinic fear and get in there. Find out more about PrEP (the once a day pill that can prevent you from contracting HIV) and if it’s appropriate for you, where you can get it. There is limited availability currently, through the PrEP Impact Trial in England for people at high risk of HIV, so you’ll need to act fast.

Know your HIV status. If you’re living with HIV ensure you know the facts: that if you’re on effective treatment you can’t pass the virus on and can expect to live as long as anyone else. Know your rights: you’re protected from HIV discrimination by law, including in the workplace and in healthcare. Abuse motivated by your HIV status is a hate crime. Challenge racism, challenge misogyny, challenge HIV discrimination.

My fellow black women, this Black History Month and every month let’s channel some Public Enemy and Fight the Power!

For more information about PrEP: http://i-base.info/pocket-prep-guide/

Susan Cole

Twitter @susancolehaley

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