In an election season that’s been so focused on gender and ethnicity, it’s an apt time to point out the thing that – other than birth and death – makes us all exactly the same, something every hypochondriac and worrywort knows well: we can all get sick. Anytime. Anywhere.
I felt this poignantly in 2008 when my six year old son Jay was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Until that point, as the mother of black children, I’d dealt with discrimination my entire life. But when diabetes came into our lives I felt, for the first time, like we were part of a club where nothing about us mattered aside from my son’s broken pancreas.
In the diabetes world, Jay’s skin color didn’t matter. His religion didn’t matter. His nationality didn’t matter. He wasn’t an outsider in any way. He’d gained membership to a club I never wanted him to be a part of. But, yet, there was a safety in it. Because anyone who really understands what it means to live with Type 1 diabetes, knows that we are a tribe of people who understand the value of life in the most perceptible way. No matter what we look like, or what we believe, without insulin we’re dead. And with too much insulin we’re dead. People who aren’t intimate with Type 1 don’t understand this. It’s why we in the diabetes community need each other so much. We’re the only ones who get it.
I’m the sort of person who tries to make the best of things, so I choose to learn from the diabetes club rather than resent the fact that my child has a terrible disease that has no cure, and requires 24/7 care. I’ve been involved in diabetes advocacy. I work to empower Jay and teach him that diabetes won’t stop him from doing anything he puts his heart and mind into. I work to make sure every person with diabetes has access to the education, care, and tools they need. And I count on our all-inclusive diabetes community to do the same. Part of being a diabetes advocate means advocating for all people with diabetes, and for some people within our community we need to advocate harder. According to an article in Forbes, “African-Americans, Latinos and the economically disadvantaged experience poorer health care access and lower quality of care than white Americans. And in most measures, that gap is growing.”
I need you, people with diabetes, to recognize this and remember that there are minorities within our minority. Please understand that the things that make life hard for any child with diabetes are doubly hard for a child of color with diabetes.
Healthcare and support shouldn’t depend on who you are.
I worry about something else now, too, as Jay has grown into a tall teenage boy: Terence Crutcher, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Amadou Diallo, Sandra Bland, to name just a handful of black people killed by police.
Think about that. And now think about what happens to your body when your blood sugar is low. The time you almost passed out. The time you had to sit down and couldn’t get up. The time you didn’t know where you were. The time you raged about nothing. The time you shook so hard your friends called an ambulance.
Can you imagine what a hypoglycemic tall black teenage boy might look like to police? It’s an image that keeps me up at night: Jay going low. Behaving erratically. Sweating profusely. Confused. Unable to answer an officer’s question.
To address these and other issues facing minorities in the diabetes community, I’ve collaborated with health advocates Chris Snider, Mike Lawson, Desiree Ase, and Chelcie Rice. Together we’ve created DOColors, a safe space within the diabetes community where we embrace diversity and advocate for all, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or political affiliation. DOColors (check us out on Facebook) is a place to voice concerns and fears. We bring together people from all over the world and support each other as we struggle with an unforgiving disease. Our goal is to collect and share the images that proudly display the diversity of our community, furthering the fact that no one with diabetes is alone.
Tune in tonight to hear Alexis talk about DOColors on Tudiabetes 8:00 p.m. EST/ 5:00 p.m. PST.