The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services could prove vital in changing the tide of distrust between Black communities who have historically experienced health disparities due to 400 years of systemic racism.
The calls for President-elect Joe Biden to nominate a Black person for the cabinet post have grown louder, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden says that he’s committed to picking cabinet members who reflect a diverse America, but will he again listen like he did when it was expressed to him the importance of nominating a Black woman as vice president?
The transition from a Trump administration to Biden’s has become increasingly muddled because of Trump’s unwillingness to concede. Still, Biden forged forward to announce several cabinet members who will take office in January.
According to NBC News, several high-profile BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) candidates with experience in the medical industry have been touted as potential picks. They include New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Latinx former member of Congress and secretary of health; California Rep. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat and former physician and emergency room doctor who is also Latinx; California Rep. Karen Bass, the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and a former physician assistant who is Black; and Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general who migrated from India and serves as a top adviser to Biden.
As you can see from that list, only one person is Black.
However, other non-BIPOC contenders remain under consideration, including Mandy Cohen, a former physician who served as Secretary of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Department as well as the chief operating officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Obama administration, and David Kessler, a physician and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Adminstration.
One of the most glaring topics permeating the consciousness of Black communities is COVID-19 and the Trump administration’s mishandling of the virus at all levels, further descending the country into a two-fold crisis of health and economic proportions. COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death for Black people in America, according to the Brookings Institution.
“Joe Biden promised to have the back of Black folks and there’s maybe no better early signal than to have a Black person lead the Department of Health and Human services, said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, in a statement to NewsOne. “However that mistrust, combined with economic inequality and racism is a fatal cocktail for us. We have the begin to turn the page. Seeing someone who looks like us that has a track record of working for the people and not big pharma or the insurance lobby leading the department would be an excellent start.”
The Department of Health and Human Services should play a vital role in reversing the distrust between Black and communities of color in America. And nominating a Black person to lead the department could help jumpstart a path of reversal. Especially with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, an additional topic of skepticism among Black communities.
From the founding practices of gynecology and obstetrics to the Tuskegee experiment to the horrific exploitation of Henrietta Lacks‘ cells, there exists very good reason. In today’s society, we know that doctors believe Black patients can withstand more pain, Black women are more prone to die post-childbirth and Black babies are more likely to die in the hands of white doctors than Black doctors. Not to mention the silent and obtuse killers in Black communities like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and sickle cell. The data exists, but the action to correlate the intense experiences of stress fueled by racism has yet to take effect in treatment and diagnosis.
While placing a Black person in positions of power is not the cure-all to reverse 400 years of systemic racism, the time to account for the sins of the past and begin the path to healing after hundreds of years of injustice is now.