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Health Justice CT Blog

Binge-Watch This: Health Equity and Pop Culture

What would we do without pop culture? Daily, we click links and gobble up gossip, or spend hours binge-watching our favorite movies and television shows on Netflix. We know who is dating who, what designer actresses are wearing to award shows and when the next celebrity baby bump is due to arrive.

I will admit, I am a victim of pop culture overload myself. My mind is cluttered with innumerable facts about pop culture. I am famous among my friends for spouting off music lyrics and movie quotes at any given time. But how many understated health disparities references have you missed while binge-watching your favorite television shows? More and more, writers, artists and executives in the entertainment industry are using their art and star power to talk about racial and ethnic health disparities.

On the latest episode of black-ish a new show about an upper-middle class Black family on ABC, Andre, played by Anthony Anderson, is a week shy of 40. He feels really good about his age, because he feels he still is cool. When his colleagues at work give him a hard time about his age and take him off the lead of the Red Bull account, Andre says, “Advertising is about cool, and in cool, Black 40 is the White 25.” A few beats later, after suggesting Andre get a colonoscopy because of his age, his white colleague says to Andre, “Because in health, Black 40 is the White 75.” I laughed, then gasped. Health inequities are not funny, but sometimes the best way to hammer a point home is to tell a good joke.

That gem of a comedic line holds some truth in it. It is true that health disparities affect more Black people than White people. To have a joke about racial and ethnic health disparities on a primetime major network television show is stunning and necessary.

In the pilot episode of The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling stars as Mindy Lahiri, a doctor, is treating a patient from India with no insurance. After agreeing to take the woman on as a patient in spite of her lack of insurance, she says to her receptionist, “I just need a different kind of patient.” Her receptionist replies, “Got it. More white patients. Done.” Again, joking about such a serious issue is really effective here.

In the drama Boss, Kelsey Grammer stars as Tom Kane, the fictional mayor of Chicago, whose daughter Emma runs a free medical clinic. While treating a small child for asthma in episode3, season 1, Emma asks the mother about his health history. The mother replies he has been sick his whole life, but they have been unable to get treatment for him because they don’t have “the magic card,” meaning a health insurance card. Subtly, the writer makes a powerful point about race, poverty and health insurance coverage with just one line.

These references to racial and ethnic health disparities are desperately needed to raise awareness about this vital issue. Pay more attention to what you hear and see the next time you log on to Netflix or Hulu. You may find yourself learning more about health disparities than you ever thought you would.



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About Tonya Wiley

Writer, trainer and consultant Tonya Wiley taps into her inner Wonder Woman by fighting for health equity for all. Find her on Twitter nerding out on pop culture and engaging in varied conversations. Learn more about Tonya here.

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