Racism in medicine

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7301.1503 (Published 23 June 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1503

The spectre must be exorcised

  1. Raj Bhopal, professor
  1. Public Health Sciences, Community Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AG

    News p 1505

    Some readers' hearts and spirits will sink at this editorial, which marks the publication of a book on racism in medicine from the King's Fund, the London based health think tank.1 In the interests of the profession, patients, society, and perhaps even the future of humanity they should, however, reflect deeply on the painful dilemmas raised by the book.

    Racism is the belief that some races or ethnic groups are superior to others, which is then extended to justify actions that create inequality. Some people deny that racism is commonplace in Britain, as it probably is in every modern society. Yet in a national representative survey by the Policy Studies Institute 20-26% of the “white” participants admitted to prejudice against Asian, Caribbean, or Muslim ethnic minorities.1 Some claim to be baffled by another plain concept, institutional racism. According to the Macpherson Report (on racism in the police), institutional racism is “The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of the colour, culture or ethnic origin.”1 A simple example would be the failure of the healthcare system to make accurate diagnoses because it fails to provide the training and facilities (interpreters) to achieve quality communication. Sceptics may still wonder why such practices are wrong. This book shows they are wrong in principle, and on pragmatic grounds.

    Every member of Britain's ethnic minority populations has anecdotes of racism, sometimes minor, sometimes shocking, and I have mine. As a child, being called “darkie” or “Paki” was a daily event. When I was 17 I was offered …

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