Wednesday, January 02, 2008
This AP news item made me think back to research on cross-race identification and how it might inform what is going on in hospitals, beyond conscious or unconscious racism in ER doctors. The knee-jerk explanation seems to be that white doctors suspect a higher level of patient misuse of pain drugs and therefore prescribe those drugs with greater reluctance and less frequency than with other races, particularly when it comes to white patients.
The reality, as researched (but not reported in the MSM), is that whites misuse prescription drugs at a significantly higher rate than blacks. So doctors are ignoring weighty empirical data in order to practice their concern for illicit use by blacks. Furthermore, they would seem to be substituting the more prevalent use of ‘street’ drugs among poor blacks, for less prevalent misuse of prescription drugs. Second, white doctors may be displaying a version of the studied problem that whites have identifying blacks during eyewitness testimony.
The problem of identification is one of ‘out-group’ versus ‘in-group’ identification. Same race identification is much more accurate (50% more) than is cross-race identification. It seems that when we identify in-group, we utilize ‘configuration’, rather than less accurate ‘features’, typical in out-group recognition. This is a form of the pejorative ‘they all look a-like’ racism in our history.
Empathetic bias along racial lines looks to follow the similar path as identification bias. White doctors simply ‘feel’ the pain of white patients more than blacks, largely due to their personal familiarity and alignment. The good news is that once we know of these issues, the bias can be mitigated through education and training. Black pain in the hands of white doctors, as well as that of others, needs supporting processes. This may also include addressing notions that poor people deserve a higher level of pain, due to nothing other than their poorness.
The better news is that it is these type of rational discussions and studies of race, including disparities, minus the rhetoric, that give us some hope of ever getting past the racial muck in which we are mired. Hopefully, everybody will keep their race cards in their pockets.
James C. Collier
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