The anxiety of being black, female and at the mercy of the U.S. healthcare system first hit Tina Sacks when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bette Parks Sacks, then in her 50s, intuitively knew something was wrong but, like many African American women, was afraid her doctor would give her the brush-off.
It wasn’t until a conscientious mammography technician advised Parks Sacks to follow up with her physician that her breast cancer was caught — in time. Less fortunate are untold numbers of African American women who did not aggressively advocate for their health for fear of being discounted.
In her new book “Invisible Visits: Black Middle-Class Women in the American Healthcare System” (Oxford University Press, 2019), Sacks, an assistant professor of social welfare at UC Berkeley, tells the often frightening human stories behind the statistics about delayed or denied diagnoses and/or treatment and high mortality rates among African Americans.
Invisible Visits is largely based on in-depth interviews Sacks conducted for her study “Performing Black womanhood: A qualitative study of stereotypes and the healthcare encounter,” which was published in 2017 in the journal Critical Public Health.
“When you look at inequalities in healthcare, you see a lot of studies tying the problems to race and poverty, but there’s not a lot about educated, insured black women who are not poor,” Sacks says. “Yet infant mortality rates for black women with a college degree are higher than those for white women with just a high school education. I wanted to dig deeper into the personal experiences behind this disparity.”
This spring, Sacks, a former NCAA Division 1 tennis player who is married to documentary filmmaker and photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz, will give talks on and off campus about the ongoing racial disparities brought to light in Invisible Visits. Berkeley News recently sat down with Sacks to ask about the inspiration for her book, the inequities it highlights and how to address them.
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