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The Medical Drawing That Blew My Mind
Chidiebere Ibe tackles the lack of Black representation in medicine
The other day, as I was browsing Instagram, I came across this image, drawn by medical illustrator Chidiebere Ibe:
You might think, “oh there’s a picture of a pregnant woman,” and move on, but there’s something different about this particular image.
You see, both the mother and the baby in this drawing are Black.
Maybe that shouldn’t be noteworthy, but it is.
I don’t know what it’s like in African countries, but in the countries where I’ve lived, worked, and visited, all the images I’ve ever seen of pregnant women have been white. Every pregnancy book I read before my daughter was born had drawings of white women carrying white babies. That’s not really a surprise; it’s just how it was, and is. (Note: a couple of people have pointed out that pigment cells don’t activate till after the birth, but in that case, drawings of babies in utero shouldn’t have white skin, either, right? Or am I missing something? Please, let Black people enjoy this moment.)
In one sense, you might think it doesn’t matter. What’s happening on the inside is the same, no matter what we look like on the outside.
But in another sense it very much matters, because it’s about representation. And sometimes you don’t even know what you’re missing, till you see yourself represented.
Every Black person I know who has seen this image has been moved almost to tears because it’s the first time they’ve seen themselves reflected in drawings of this very human experience. I also saw comments from Asian people living in the US and the UK saying that they’d never seen themselves represented in medical drawings, either. (Again, this might be different in countries with predominantly Asian populations; I don’t know.)
There are also a couple of deeper issues here.
First, the “taken for grantedness” of the white image. Even I, as a Black woman, had never questioned this lack of representation. After all, if the majority of medical books and textbooks are written by white people, they are going to represent themselves.
Second, the fact that many medical conditions are only described in terms of how they appear on white skin. Think about that for a minute. For example, check for yourselves the number of conditions that result in skin turning red, then ask yourself how likely it is that Black skin would turn red. Generally, it doesn’t.
That means that even the people in charge of our medical care (again, in global minority spaces, mostly white) might not have any idea how certain medical conditions present on Black skin. You can see how this could have serious health implications, apart from other aspects of systemic racism already present in healthcare.
For example, see the following articles:
Chidiebere Ibe has several more beautifully drawn medical illustrations on his Instagram profile, which are also worth checking out. If you like what you see, you can support his important and necessary work by buying a print of the pregnant Black woman illustration or by contributing to his GoFundMe so he can get to med school. Learn more about him in this post:
As for me, I’m going to go gaze at that beautiful drawing for a while longer. How did it land with you?
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.