By Lee Ross

These books about Black health and health disparities in the United States come highly recommended. Read more about the history of medical racism and the fight for health equity in the United States, and hear from Black doctors doing the work.

Sickening: Anti-Black Racism and Health Disparities in the United States
By Anne Pollock

From the spike in chronic disease after Hurricane Katrina to the lack of protection for Black residents during the Flint water crisis — and even the life-threatening childbirth experience for tennis star Serena Williams — author Anne Pollock takes readers on a journey through the diversity of anti-Black racism operating in health care. She goes beneath the surface to deconstruct the structures that make these events possible, including mass incarceration, police brutality, and the hypervisibility of Black athletes’ bodies. Ultimately, “Sickening” shows what these shocking events reveal about the everyday racialization of health in the United States. Concluding with a vital examination of racialized health care during the COVID pandemic and the Black Lives Matter rebellions of 2020, “Sickening” cuts through the mind-numbing statistics to vividly portray health care inequalities. In a gripping and passionate style, Pollock shows the devastating reality and consequences of systemic racism on the lives and health of Black Americans.

We’ll Fight It Out Here: A History of the Ongoing Struggle for Health Equity
David Chanoff, Louis W. Sullivan

Racism in the U.S. health care system has been deliberately undermining Black health care professionals and exacerbating health disparities among Black Americans for centuries. These health disparities only became a mainstream issue on the agenda of US health leaders and policymakers because a group of health professions schools at historically Black colleges and universities banded together to fight for health equity. “We’ll Fight It Out Here” tells the story of how the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools (AMHPS) was founded by this coalition and the hard-won influence it built in American politics and health care. David Chanoff and Louis W. Sullivan, former secretary of Health and Human Services, detail how the struggle for equity has been fought in the field of health care, where bias and disparities continue to be volatile national issues.  

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine
By Damon Tweedy

When Damon Tweedy begins medical school, he envisions a bright future where his segregated, working-class background will become largely irrelevant. Instead, he finds that he has joined a new world where race is front and center and Black bodies are considered pathological and inherently diseased. “Black Man in a White Coat” examines the complex ways in which both Black doctors and patients must navigate the difficult and often contradictory terrain of race and medicine. Tweedy discovers how often race influences his encounters with patients, and e illustrates the complex social, cultural, and economic factors at the root of many health problems in the Black community. Tweedy explores the challenges confronting Black doctors, and the disproportionate health burdens faced by Black patients, ultimately seeking a way forward to better treatment and more compassionate care.

Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination
Alondra Nelson

Between its founding in 1966 and its formal end in 1980, the Black Panther Party blazed a distinctive trail in American political culture, touting revolutionary rhetoric and militant action. Alondra Nelson, however, uncovers an indispensable but lesser-known aspect of the organization’s broader struggle for social justice: health care. The Black Panther Party’s health activism — its network of free health clinics, its campaign to raise awareness about genetic disease, and its challenges to medical discrimination — was an expression of its founding political philosophy and also a recognition that poor Blacks were both underserved by mainstream medicine and overexposed to its harms. In 1971, the party launched a campaign to address sickle-cell anemia. In addition to establishing screening programs and educational outreach efforts, it exposed the racial biases of the medical system that had largely ignored sickle-cell anemia, a disease that predominantly affected people of African descent.

Black & Blue: The Origins and Consequences of Medical Racism
By J. Hoberman

“Black & Blue” is the first systematic description of how American doctors think about racial differences and how this kind of thinking affects the treatment of their Black patients. The standard studies of medical racism examine past medical abuses of Black people and do not address the racially motivated thinking and behaviors of physicians practicing medicine today. “Black & Blue” penetrates the physician’s private sphere where racial fantasies and misinformation distort diagnoses and treatments. Doctors have imposed white or Black racial identities upon every organ system of the human body, along with racial interpretations of Black children, the Black elderly, the Black athlete, Black musicality, Black pain thresholds, and other aspects of Black minds and bodies.