Black Herstory

By Chernise Joseph

For reasons unknown, forcing myself to sit and write lately has become increasingly difficult. The stresses of life coupled with just being sick have made one of my favorite hobbies intimidating to me. How do you write what you cannot see inside your own head?

Anyway, as I sat scrolling through some mind-numbing app, an informative blurb caught my attention. It told the story of Lake Lanier, a formerly thriving African American community in Georgia that was destroyed. That, of course, isn’t a tale new to any of us who have lived in America for any length of time, but it got me thinking about Black History Month or, more importantly, Black Herstory Month.

So why black ‘her’story?

I don’t call it that because women never get their stories told, I call it that because many black women have medical stories that are incongruent with our white counterparts. What are their stories? What are our stories?

Multiple sclerosis exposed me to that discrepancy painfully early in my diagnosis journey. I had two things working against me then: I was unusually young for medical issues and I was a black woman. I emphasize the woman aspect just as much as anything else as women have historically been discounted when it came to medical issues. We can all think of a couple of examples of this if we pause long enough. Ms. Henrietta Lacks anyone?

I was told that I had to have diabetes or sickle cell. Had to. I don’t.

I was told that multiple sclerosis is a white, northern European woman’s disease so I couldn’t possibly have it. I do.

I was told that the excruciating pain MS causes was all in my head as, I quote, “Multiple sclerosis doesn’t cause pain.” Ha!

This was in between being freshly graduated from college and having virtually no insight into the world, especially in a medical sense. Like so many others, I believed these men and women in white coats and ignored my pain, forced myself to walk correctly, and did my best to be ‘normal’ despite whatever issues persistently plagued me every day. It took over a year, four different doctors, and me losing vision in an eye for one to finally take me seriously enough to at least order an MRI. One year.

That was eight years ago.

You would think a decade would make ten worlds of difference in any sense, but young African American women are still being pushed through (and out) of the medical system as I type this. Articles and video after video on the subject can be found on any social media platform. I think it’s essential that we go watch those videos and spread awareness of them. Illness should bring out the kindness in people, not the skepticism. This is why I chose this month and this post to use the voice given to me via this blog to make the medical hellscape black women deal with more known.

If we don’t talk about what plagues us, what stops us from getting any sicker?

Happy Black History Month.

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The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) is a national nonprofit organization and leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a Helpline with trained specialists; award-winning publications, including, The Motivator; MSAA’s nationally recognized website, featuring educational videos, webinars, and research updates; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; safety and mobility equipment products; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; MRI funding; My MSAA Community, a peer-to-peer online support forum; MS Conversations blog; a clinical trial search tool; podcasts; and more. For additional information, please visit or call (800) 532-7667.

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