“NOT MY PROBLEM”: A key perspective on Black donor resistance in the UK

The following post is a subjective discourse on the reluctance of people from Black, Asian and minority communities to step forward and become life-saving blood, bone marrow and organ donors. It is written by one of our new regular contributors, the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT) in the UK and speaks to their particular context and mission. However, the impassioned call to arms will resonate with many who do donor recruitment in diverse populations, and offers some searing insight into the local and community specificity of donor resistance.

“Ordinary people can do extraordinary things, that is why there is a FIERCE urgency of NOW! We cannot wait, the time is now! We must challenge ourselves to be better…” Barack Obama

“It’s not my problem”, “I haven’t got the time” “Black people only suffer from sickle cell anaemia”, “Black people never had leukaemia”, “Will my blood be used for cloning or experimentation”, “You know that Black people don’t help each other”.

How many times have you heard statements like these being used in the avoidance of helping ourselves in moments of crises involving serious health issues? Within the Black & Ethnic Minority communities there exists a unique health issue in which if we fail to respond to in a positive manner, will result in many of our people dying unnecessarily. A fallacy I have often (until recently) heard reiterated by some members of Black & Ethnic minority communities is that only White people suffered from cancers, bone marrow disorders such as leukaemia or organ failure. Due to indifference and ignorance of the facts, some have always assumed that our people were immune from such disorders. The faulty/flawed logic that follows such skewed beliefs is akin to “if we are now being diagnosed with leukaemia or need a kidney, [for example], then it must be something to do with living in the so called developed world or a conspiracy instigated by our National Health Services.

Many Black people, in the South London area of Croydon, (United Kingdom) and beyond know that a 7 year old schoolgirl, Imogin Appiah had a very untimely death. In recent years so too have 14 year old Dean Sheikh, 18 year old Leona Dehaney, 4 year old Kye Carpenter Mark, and many more. Unfortunately they all had leukaemia, or needed a donated organ. The tragedy is that their lives could possibly have been saved if they had the option of a bone marrow or organ donation transplant from an unrelated Black donor.

Why are we fooling ourselves?

The Black race has always suffered from these disorders whether they have lived in Africa or the Diaspora. All too often it has just never been discussed outside the family unit, and this combined with lack of knowledge has prevented the masses being educated on the possible solutions.

In general (and there are of course always exceptions to generalizations) Caucasians in the western world have grasped  the implications surrounding the issue of individuals donating blood, bone marrow and organs better than their Black counterparts. It most definitely fair and unfortunately accurate to reflect that Black people have been very slow to respond in a likewise fashion.

ACLT logo

Why?

The ACLT has spent the last 16 years educating the community on how we can become potential life savers, but how many of us have actually registered as bone marrow, blood or organ donors? Thousands have enquired but the application forms may just sit around the house awaiting their time and convenience. Others shy away from the hard facts simply because it does not directly affect their loved ones. The fear of needles, mistrust of the Medical Establishment, drug and alcohol consumption, having sickle cell trait, are all myths, excuses and taboos used to escape from the obvious facts. Why is the Black community so reluctant to come forward to try and save another Black life, when no other race can help? If our forefathers had taken this stance then the Black race would have not survived Slavery, Colonialism and Apartheid. Have we become so individually insular that we have all but lost our collective identity as a caring Black community? Or do we only come together as one when it involves Music and Sport?

Are we inherently weaker than other races when it comes to helping one another or is it just an acute sense of selfishness that is peculiar to the Black race? Or are there other factors in play, and it is a combination of some or all of these things? I’d like to think that is not the case that we as a race are weaker or more selfish than others. Our great forefathers believed in self preservation of the Black race in the face of Slavery and other adversities, but now it seems it is a case of “looking after No. 1” and good riddance to the rest of you. The Black community rightly complains about the injustices we have to deal with around the world, highlighting the abusive stereotypes that are always expressed in the news media. Unfortunately, some of our community do not do us any favours when we help to reinforce these views, such as the high level of gun/knife crimes, and drugs on the streets.

Where is our compassion when our Black people urgently need help? The solution to the problem is held in the heart, body and soul of every one of us. This is because generally only a person of African, Caribbean or Mixed Race descent can be a donor for another Black person who urgently needs a Marrow or Organ transplant. That is the plain hard facts of the situation. What are you going to do about it?

The choice is yours… help or walk away?

Editors note: The African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT) will continue to share their work on these pressing issues in future posts. Please continue to follow TransplantInformers for more.

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