Health Care and Race

March 16, 1999

In a month full of stories about racial prejudice, the most alarming is probably one you didn't hear about. I'm not talking about the trial in Jasper, Texas nor the furor over the police shooting of an unarmed African immigrant in New York. I'm not even talking about the racially charged comments by a shock jock known as "the Greaseman." What I'm talking about is a somewhat obscure story that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A carefully conducted study found that doctors were 40 percent less likely to order sophisticated cardiac tests for women and blacks who complained about chest pain than for men and whites with the same symptoms. After subjecting their results to statistical tests, they concluded that the disparity is most likely due to unconscious biases about gender and race.

I don't think I could find a better illustration of why racial reconciliation has become such an elusive goal three decades after the civil rights movement in the 1960s. While media coverage of racially charged incidents leads the news, the bigger story and the more insidious problem is an unconscious bias toward people who are not like you.

I'm sure you've heard the statement, "Why, I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body." When I hear that, I always want to say, "Yes you do, and let me prove it to you." Usually they have just expressed some prejudice against someone who is the opposite sex, the opposite race, the opposite religion, even the opposite body size.

The New England Journal of Medicine article reminds us that much of our prejudice is subtle and unconscious. And I believe the best way to fight it is to return to the biblical teaching that all are created in the image of God and worthy of respect and dignity.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.