“I just hate the fight.”
This statement was reiterated several times in the Feb. 6 reading of “Same Blood: Stories of Inequity of 10 Black Women Living in Indianapolis” at Trinity Episcopal Church. For an hour, five local actresses shared the stories of 10 local women who have experienced discrimination in the health care system.
Lauren Briggeman, co-founder of Summit Productions, a local, female-based theater company, took interviews conducted by Dr. Sally Wasmuth, an assistant professor at IUPUI, with Black women from around the city and pieced together the interviews to create the play. The play features conversations regarding medical treatment, obstacles in recovery for Black women and how the issue of race permeates most areas of life for African American women.
The reading was part of Trinity Episcopal Church’s Social Justice and Reconciliation Committee’s effort to address social issues within the community.
Bill Coleman, chair of the committee, said focusing on racial disparities in health care was an easy choice after hearing about maternal and infant mortality in the news and after visiting the Indiana Minority Health Coalition.
According to the Office of Minority Health, African American women have a life expectancy of 78, as opposed to 82 years for white women. The likelihood of death among Black women following a stroke, asthma attack, giving birth and pneumonia are all higher than the rates of death for white women.
It was this underlying theme that connected the experiences of the 10 anonymous women who shared their stories through what Wasmuth called “narrative medicine.”
“Listening to stories of people who have been through something is a predictor of better health outcomes,” Wasmuth said.
Evoking empathy and understanding was one of the reasons Coleman and the committee wanted to bring the play, originally performed at Phoenix Theatre, to the church.
“Same Blood” wove together horror stories of being left in the hallways of an emergency room, not being offered medical tests when symptoms arise and being ignored by doctors. The women went on to talk about discrimination they’ve faced in the workforce, including a gay, Black woman who felt ostracized by her peers, a biracial woman who felt she had to choose between being Black or being white, and a woman with a teenage son, constantly worried he will have a fatal run-in with a police officer.
While the play offered multiple examples of the problems Black women face in health care and beyond, no solutions were offered. In this instance, art imitates life. According to the National Women’s Law Center, racial bias causes doctors to spend less time with Black patients, underestimate their pain and provide them with less effective care, increasing their risk of dying unnecessarily.
But, despite discouraging statistics and experiences, the actresses left the audience with the message that self-advocacy and standing up for others facing discrimination can make positive change for African Americans.
“You have a voice,” actress Enjoli Desiree said. “Use it.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.