Institutionalised racism in the healthcare system: AJ’s Story

The Indigenous prenatal experience

A shameful reality of our generation is that white Australia has had more than 200 years to be educated on 65,000 years’ worth of Aboriginal history, heritage and hurt but it’s come up very short indeed. Ignorance persists, and with it, so too does a truly problematic lack of understanding of, and respect for, our First Nations people.

First Nations activist, PhD scholar and mum Alicia Johnson (AJ) believes that Australia’s collective ignorance continues to be ingrained in racist stereotyping. A Barkindji-Latji Latji-Buri Gubi and Wakka Wakka woman, AJ has borne the brunt of those racist stereotypes for as long as she can recall.

“What scares me is I’m what you call one of the ‘lucky’ ones. I’ve heard horror stories from so many Indigenous women who have had traumatic prenatal care – it makes your skin crawl.” -AJ.

“I have been stereotyped my entire life, even to this day – from shopping centres to doctors, you name it,” she says. “The healthcare system is fraught with racial stereotypes that have persisted over the last couple of centuries, which position Indigenous women as having inferior capability when it comes to making the right or sound decisions for themselves.”

AJ says those stereotypes were even more hurtful when she was pregnant and accessing maternity healthcare.

“These micro-aggressions that I’ve been exposed to all my life were more confronting and offensive (when I was pregnant) because I was so vulnerable. To receive this type of degradation during a time in my life when I was so emotional and weak truly disturbed me.What scares me is I’m what you call one of the ‘lucky’ ones. I’ve heard horror stories from so many Indigenous women who have had traumatic prenatal care – it makes your skin crawl.”

Navigating the healthcare system as an Indigenous woman

In one routine appointment, a nurse showed AJ how to execute a blood sugar test in case she got diabetes. Diabetes Australia reports that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are almost four times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to have diabetes, but AJ’s pregnancy was classified as normal with no concerns for high blood sugar-related conditions.

“I soon learnt that not all mothers were exposed to this presentation with beeping machines and prick tests – I was exposed to this simply because I was Aboriginal,” she says.

Equality of Care

For AJ, simply increasing awareness of this institutionalised racism is not the solution, nor the priority. Instead, she believes that stereotypes must stop influencing the equality of care that is extended to women in pregnancy, motherhood and generally.

“The notion of being aware of your stereotyping or racism simply doesn’t matter,” she says. “What matters is that it’s 2021 and healthcare professionals have a duty of care in regards to Indigenous people.

“Exposing us to biased treatment that is offensive, traumatic and simply ignorant has to stop, and that begins on an individualistic level based on responsibility and care.”

AJ is proud to be part of a growing number of Indigenous women who are using their voices to challenge the status quo and effect change. Together, these women aspire to a future where equal access to healthcare is everyone’s right. But AJ believes that the voices of non-Indigenous women are critical to this chorus reaching an impactful crescendo.

“As Indigenous people to this country, our stories, cultures, knowledge and lifestyles have been marginalised and silenced throughout 200-plus years of brutal colonisation,” she says. “Australians need to share the voices of Indigenous people on social media and in the everyday.

“Investigate where it would be appropriate to include an Indigenous person or perspective, such as your workplace, social groups and in regards to your family life.

“We need real solidarity, and we need it now.”

For more on AJ, click here

Read our interview with AJ and need assistance? Mudgin-gal (meaning Women’s Place) is an Aboriginal organisation based in Redfern, Sydney. They deliver support, referrals and community-based services to countless Aboriginal women and families. 

AJ would also like to reference Trading Blak whose work is calling for self-determination in regards to Indigenous entrepreneurship and blak business.

Find more articles in our journal.

Visit our shop to find out more about The Prenatal supplement to help support a healthy pregnancy.

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Visit our shop to find out more about The Prenatal supplement to help support a healthy pregnancy.

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