Autoimmune diseases have a disproportionate impact on the Black community, specifically for Black women. Black women experience higher rates and severity of autoimmune diseases than other demographics.

Black women often face multiple sources of chronic stress that further dysregulate the immune system and heighten vulnerability. Certified holistic and autoimmune health coach Jamie Nicole asserts that stress stems from generational trauma, along with the experiences of racism and discrimination. Nicole also believes environmental factors, such as exposure to pollutants and toxins, play a major role in worsening autoimmune conditions. 

“Centuries of oppression, discrimination and violence have profoundly impacted the mental and physiological well-being of Black people,” she told 21Ninety. “This trauma can influence immune system functioning and predispose individuals to autoimmune diseases.”

Systemic barriers, such as transportation and lack of health insurance, also contribute to the higher rates of autoimmune diseases. Research shows that Black women are three times more likely to develop lupus than white women, as they have a harder time accessing care.

With so many different factors, Black women need to become their own advocates to lower the rate of autoimmune diseases. Ebony Williams, who has been living with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis since 2009, is a living testament to the power of advocacy. Her journey lead her on a path of advocating for herself and others.

“Living with an autoimmune disease is like being on a boat, [where] sometimes, you can have calm waters, [but] other days, it feels like the boat will capsize,” Williams explained. “It is a constant battle to take care of myself while living in a world where I have to fight for my well-being.” 

Chronic illness warrior and patient advocate Shamikka Marty agrees that Black women living with autoimmune diseases must advocate for themselves. Self-advocacy helps prepare them for the fight against the myriad of barriers and inequities in the healthcare system. 

“It is hard for doctors to believe my pain,” Marty told 21Ninety. “As Black women and chronic illness warriors, we are often viewed as stronger than what we are.”  

Marty, along with many other Black women, has a complicated experience when going to seek help from a medical profession. She asserts that doctors do not believe in the validity of her pain. Between that and other barriers, including socioeconomic factors and research gaps, Black women find it difficult to receive quality care.

“There is a growing recognition within the healthcare community about the existence of racial and gender disparities in autoimmune disease care,” Marty said. “This awareness has sparked conversations and initiatives aimed at addressing these inequities.”

While there has been progress for Black women living with autoimmune diseases, there is still work to achieve equity. Marty emphasizes the need for continued efforts to address systemic barriers, promote DEI in healthcare and prioritize patient-centered approaches. 

Nicole agrees that long-term change requires sustained efforts and collaboration across multiple sectors. She believes that change will come when the health care industry provides access to culturally competent care and invests in community outreach that prioritize Black women.

“While health equity is a step in the right direction, the ultimate goal is health justice,” Nicole said. “[There has to be] a system that actively works to dismantle systemic barriers and ensure that all individuals, regardless of race or background, have equitable access to quality healthcare.”