Addressing the Most Painful Discrimination, by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D.

There is no denying that racism is a truly pernicious form of discrimination.

Despite laws making racial discrimination illegal, social pressure and economic incentives favoring racial harmony, it is an unfortunate reality that there will always be people still wanting to force their will on others because of skin color.

There is a discrimination, however, that can be even more pernicious and more painful – and even deadly.  This discrimination appears when people are afflicted with diseases such as sickle cell anemia, diabetes and cancer.  It’s similar to targeted racial discrimination, where only a select group feels the sting.  Unlike racial discrimination, genetic make-up often causes disease; and, worst of all, scientists have yet to develop cures for many of them.  

We can’t pass laws to stop diseases.  Our friends can encourage us to live healthy lifestyles, but that’s not always enough.  Once nature discriminates and “selects” someone for a disease, the ensuing pain and suffering is inevitable.

All is not lost, however.  Scientists are vigilantly seeking cures and laboratories are abuzz with research aimed at wiping away the painful effects of “disease discrimination.” 

As black Americans, we are well aware of, disgusted by and always ready to fight racial discrimination.  Occasionally, we even spend great sums of money to litigate discrimination cases so a few can be compensated for the harm they experienced.  This is an honorable pursuit, but it can be daunting because – as mentioned earlier – the actions of the ignorant almost guarantees that a similar case will be fought again weeks, months or years later.

Given what we know about disease discrimination, we might consider altering the way we spend some of our valuable resources.

What would happen if we refocused support we might normally provide for a case of racial discrimination toward combating sickle cell anemia – the genetic blood disorder that of which one in 12 black Americans carries the genetic trait?  Recent medical advances in the fields of gene therapy and bone marrow transplantation give hope that a cure for this debilitating and deadly disease may soon be reached, but there is still much to be done.

If we band together, our efforts could produce a cure for sickle cell anemia that would help people of all races – blacks in particular.  It would be a substantial and lasting victory.

We must go beyond hypothesizing and make this happen.  Beyond what is already underway, we must fund new research with the same enthusiasm that we once used to rout the Ku Klux Klan.  It may take years but, given recent advances in genetic science, we can be assured that a cure will be identified.  Disease discrimination in the form of sickle cell anemia can be eliminated.

That’s why it’s disconcerting that certain establishment black groups seem more interested in the number of black actors on TV shows or black coaches and owners in professional sports.  Do they lack the vision to comprehend the value of ending a form of insidious discrimination and unnecessary suffering in our community that doesn’t involve race?

As rational individuals, we should be wise enough to recognize discrimination is flat-out wrong.  No one wants to be on the receiving end of discrimination.  We must also realize that people are not perfect and that they will discriminate.  They always have and – barring a major change in the way the world turns – they always will.  On the other hand, there is joy and hope in knowing that today’s science presents us with an opportunity to eliminate disease discrimination.  We can stop the pain and suffering.

If we use our resources to aid science in curing disease discrimination, we can save lives.  We can help obliterate pain; thereby enabling us to more freely fight other forms of discrimination.

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B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21.  You can visit his website at  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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