With April being National Minority Health Month, diversity and inclusiveness are top of mind. This is an issue that arguably doesn't get enough serious attention in our Diabetes Community -- be it online or at in-person meetups and conferences.
One member of our community who has a lot to say on this topic is fellow type 1 Chelcie Rice in Atlanta, GA, who's well-known for his work as a comedian. Chelcie is one of several D-advocates who will be attending the HealtheVoices 2018 conference in Chicago this week, where this issue will quite likely be discussed.
We are pleased to give him the mic today to share his POV with 'Mine readers...
Talking Race and Diabetes, by Chelcie Rice
Nobody likes to talk about race. I’m not sure why that is. I do know for as much as people don’t like talking about race, they don’t like hearing other people talk about it even more -- especially considering today’s social and political environment.
My connection to diabetes came when I was diagnosed as type 1 at age 25, in the late 80s. Years later, I started performing stand-up comedy and incorporated it into my diabetes advocacy. My process is basically taking my truth and making it funny, using a sense of humor to tackle some more serious topics. One particular truth: race played a major role in how this country was founded, including how people in this country work, live and even obtain healthcare.
So it stands to reason that there’s a great divide in how people of color are represented in the world of diabetes.
It’s a known fact that diabetes affects people of color in much larger numbers that people who are not of color, especially when speaking of type 2 diabetes. But there seems to be a problem (IMO) when it comes to people of color being represented at diabetes conferences and conventions.
Now when I make that claim the usual reaction is, “Nobody is keeping them from coming.” But is that really true? Have you looked online lately, especially on social media? Let me help you out.
I went online recently and did some looking around. I went to a major diabetes conference website and scrolled down the home page looking at pictures. All the speakers were white. All the pictures of people who attended previous years were also white. But that was just one organization's particular conference, so I went to Instagram and scrolled through the Instagram feed. And scrolled and scrolled more. It took like 5 thumb scrolls until I saw a person of color and it was actor Ben Vereen. I found much of the same on other sites and pages. Some of them had a few people of color but not many.
Personally, I don’t necessarily see a problem. What I see is an opportunity.
When I brought this up in a Twitter chat afterward, many people were taken aback at what I found and felt something needed to be corrected. The people who concerned me the most were the ones who saw it as a “them” problem. See when you make a situation a “them” problem, it basically means that you haven’t taken the time to ask yourself how it would make you feel.
Let’s try this: If you’re a woman reading this, how would it make you feel if you went to one of those websites or conferences and saw nothing but male speakers? Would you feel like there’s anything at that conference that would appeal to you? Would you appreciate some guy possibly “mansplaining” your diabetes to you? No, probably not. You likely wouldn’t feel like you’d fit in -- or worse, you might feel that nothing offered at that event would help you. You might not even feel welcome to attend.
Now you’ve put yourself in someone else’s shoes. That's what I like to call the first step.
Empathy is a strong tool. For better or worse, it’ll keep you from putting your foot in your mouth. Now I’m not saying that people of color don’t have a responsibility to better inform themselves when it comes to our health. But to present yourself as an inclusive tribe has to be more than lip service. Just telling me you’re inclusive without giving me anything tangible to see, leaves me without much reason to believe you. The Benjamin Franklin quote, “Well done is better than well said,” speaks to this.
There are more representations of PWDs (people with diabetes) than just athletes and rock stars. There are some common people making great strides in their communities. I totally get why it’s necessary for children and adults to see examples of "diabetes heroes" doing phenomenal things in spite of wearing an insulin pump or CGM. But let's not forget the people of color who need to see that just because you may have a family history of diabetes, doesn’t mean it’s just something he or she has to deal with alone.
This is because of a lack of proper education in communities that have a high population of persons of color -- specifically Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans. On YouTube, there’s a great Adam Ruins Everything video addressing the issue of redlining -- watch it and you’ll understand how much of what is going on in this country, and how it's seeped into diabetes education.
We have to do better. These conventions, orgs and advocates need to do better.
People’s lives are at stake and we can’t lose another life due to lack of information. There’s no need for creating new meet-ups or specific social media events. No hashtag campaigns or racial-specific Snapchat feeds. The solution is quite simple: Be mindful. That’s it. Look at how you appear and make adjustments. Complacency is what caused this issue and being mindful of it is the first step towards correction. You can’t directly change a person’s mind when it comes to racial bias (because it's often subconscious), but in most cases you can enlighten them and hope they change on their own.
One thing I want to make clear: At NO time have I personally ever felt marginalized, mistreated or unwelcome since I’ve been participating in the DOC. That’s because of the way I choose to carry myself and remain responsible for how I react to certain situations. I can’t speak for anyone else.
But I’m truly aware that there is an issue that needs to be addressed and that needs to happen soon.
This week. I’m traveling to the HealtheVoices conference in Chicago along with several other advocates from our Diabetes Community. As far as overall attendance at this conference beyond just diabetes, I’ll be one of maybe 12 attendees who are of color. I’m definitely looking forward to connecting with those other advocates to ask questions and see if they feel the same as I do about representation. I have a feeling they’ll agree. (btw, you can follow along at #HealtheVoices18 on Twitter.)
In the meantime, maybe take a minute to email the orgs that appear not to be completely representing the full spectrum of diabetes. The notion that color doesn’t matter is complete BS. Even if we're all the same biologically, perspectives and experiences matter and diversity matters.
The change is going to come from us, and if you get called out on it, don’t readily get upset. Take a beat and see if it happens to be true. As the saying goes, “Well done is better than well said.”
Thanks for sharing your POV on this important topic, Chelcie. We're so glad you're part of the D-Community and DOC, and we're eager to help grow diversity however we can.