Feminist Friday focused on lack of wellness for minorities


Black and Brown communities continue to be under represented and don’t recieve the same opportunities in regards to wellness. 

Claire Hoppe

This week’s Feminist Friday featured Jahmai Fisher, Iowa State’s training and development specialist, who led an interactive discussion on minority identities representation in the world of wellness.

Fisher was born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, before she immigrated to America in 2011. She divided the discussion into five components: general healthcare systems, mental health, addiction and substance abuse, COVID-19 and physical fitness and nutrition in pop culture based in the U.S.

“When we look at wellness in America, there’s a standard there […] and there’s also this standard that in a lot of ways is viewed as unattainable for folks who don’t necessarily fit this mold of being white, of being heterosexual, of being cisgender, of being middle or upper class,” Fisher said.

Fisher began the discussion by talking about general healthcare in the U.S., its history and how it specifically impacts Black and Brown people. Fisher introduced the topic by talking about James Marion Sims, who is considered the father of gynecology. Fisher said that Sims is celebrated by many in the medical field for his work, but from 1845 to 1849 Sims performed medical trial and error experiments on women, children and infants of African descent without their consent.

“When you think about the way in which this man is glorified in modern medicine, but they don’t necessarily mention the fact that […] this is how this person came to know so much about the anatomy of the human body,” she said. “He was essentially playing trial and error with bodies, with people, wrongfully without consent.”

Fisher said that this caused Back and Brown people to mistrust the American healthcare system. She then discussed the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, from 1932 to 1972, when nearly 600 African American men were coaxed into participating in a medical study by being told they would receive free healthcare, which they never received.

She continued by briefly summarizing the stories of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cells were reproduced by medical professionals without her consent, and Dawn Wooten, who discovered that there were alleged and wrongful hysterectomies being performed on women of color without their consent.

The conversation then shifted to the aspect of mental health as wellness. Fisher shared an experience from her childhood. She said she never saw people of color attending therapy on television.

“I can’t think of one thing that I was watching growing up that actually highlighted the normalization of therapy within Black and Brown groups […] When we think about mental health, the representation simply isn’t there,” Fisher said.

She then began to explain the different narratives that occur when dealing with mental health issues. Fisher said that many people of color who are a victim of police brutality often have their criminal records released in an attempt to justify why and how the victim was treated. She said that when a white person commits a crime such as a mass shooting, their mental health is discussed as a means of creating empathy for them.

“You’re trying to justify the right to killing these folks as it relates to Black and Brown bodies and police brutality, revealing some sort of character trait that is negative versus almost trying to elicit empathy now for white mass shooters, trying to say that these folks usually had some sort of troubled past or mental health issues,” Fisher said.

She then discussed the contrast in views on the war on drugs and the opioid crisis. Fisher detailed how in the 1970s there was a sense of urgency to arrest anyone who was buying or selling crack cocaine and how there was an increase in the amount of Black and Brown people being incarcerated without the opportunity for rehabilitation. She then said that when the opioid crisis began affecting white communities there was a very different reaction.

“So when we think about the war on drugs, when it was impacting Black and Brown folks mainly, it was a war on drugs […] However, once it was impacting more while folks […] all of a sudden it was [a] crisis and the focus needed to be on addiction and eradicating addiction as well as making treatment and rehabilitation more accessible,” Fisher said.

Fisher then said that when a problem is affecting Black and Brown communities, it often doesn’t gain attention, but when the problem begins impacting mainly white communities people become aware. 

The next point of discussion was physical fitness and nutrition. Fisher prompted the listeners to search “woman yoga instructor” on Google Images. The search garnered many comments from the audience about the pictures that they saw, most commonly being white, blonde and thin female yoga instructors. Fisher pointed out that this was very interesting because the practice of yoga has origins in Hinduism.

“Young, white, blonde, tall, thin white women are usually the folks who are making money, who are owning these yoga studios […] from, in a lot of ways, the exploitation of a south Asian practice,” Fisher said.

Fisher also said that while this isn’t the appearance of all yoga instructors, it is the appearance of many.

“The lack of representation again is very clear,” Fisher said. 

As for nutrition, Fisher noticed that many white people buy trendier whole foods that cause environmental damage, such as the production of almond milk in California that contributed to water shortages and drought. She said that these resources are often exploited in industries where Black and Brown people are working.

Finally, Fisher discussed how racial and ethnic minority groups are being more greatly impacted by the coronavirus. 

“There’s a lot of information about how and why, for some reason, pain and tolerance among Black and Brown folks isn’t necessarily taken as seriously as it is within their white counterparts,” Fisher said. 

She then notes that certain people may not have access to insurance or quality healthcare providers.

“For instance, as a Black woman it is very important to me to have a primary care provider who is a Black woman,” she said. “In the [surrounding] area there is not one Black woman primary care provider.”

Fisher then reiterated that many Black and Brown people don’t have the opportunity to have a doctor that looks like them and knows what they might specifically be susceptible to. She also said that certain medications might not work for Black and Brown bodies.

She closed by stating that if people do not have the opportunity to educate on and protect themselves from the current pandemic, more and more Black and Brown people will be affected by the virus.

“Until I decided to take things into my own hands, wellness, in America, was just not something that I saw myself, as a Black woman, in[…] I’m trying to change that narrative[…] because wellness isn’t something that should be for just one group of people.”