Joined by Blood

3 mins read
blood donation

As February comes to a rainy close, the celebration of Black History Month shows no signs of stopping. And you may be surprised to learn that one of the most important ways to honor Black lives is to give blood—especially if you’re Black.

Bottom line: there’s a worldwide shortage of blood. If you’re healthy, your blood is needed today. If you’re healthy and Black, your blood is needed with even greater urgency. Underscoring the truth that Black Lives Matter, there’s no time like the present to donate blood to save Black lives and to benefit anyone in need of donated blood.

On Saturday, February 24, Huntington Health will host the first Charles R. Drew Black History Month Blood Drive at the Huntington Health Blood Donation Center, 711 Fairmount Avenue South. Drew was a brilliant Black American surgeon who was instrumental in the development of blood banks during WWII. As the most prominent Black American in the field, Drew protested against the practice of racist segregation in the donation of blood and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until 1950. The Huntington Health Care Services team will offer complimentary refreshments and a goody bag along with blood pressure and glucose screenings. Validated self-parking is available at Huntington Health East Parking Garage at 735 Fairmount Avenue South. Space is limited, so check for an available appointment time here.

Why Black Blood Donors are so Urgently Needed

In the interest of political correctness, it’s often said that “we are all the same.” In medical terms, this statement is inaccurate. Black African Americans have unique antigens on their red blood cells not commonly found in other populations, specifically the rare U-negative and Duffy-negative blood types. This is significant in the context of treating Sickle Cell Disease, the most prevalent hereditary blood disease in the US, which occurs predominantly (98%) in Black people of African descent. Black patients with Sickle Cell Disease who have these blood types can only receive blood from matching donors, making a compatible match for a Black patient from a non-Black donor unlikely. According to the American Red Cross, one in three Black blood donors is a match for people with Sickle Cell Disease.

Approximately one in 365 Black Americans will be diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease, which distorts soft, round blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, causing severe pain. When cells harden, they can get caught in blood vessels, potentially leading to stroke and organ failure. Treatment for the disease includes frequent red blood cell transfusions to unblock blood vessels and deliver vitally needed oxygen. Another treatment, called red blood cell exchange apheresis, involves the patient’s diseased blood being removed, discarded, and replaced with healthy donor red blood cells.

Black Blood Donors Can Help Meet Universal Blood Donation Quotas

The American Red Cross reports that 51 percent of Black Americans have Type O blood, which is always in high demand. O + (positive) blood type may be used in patients with AB+, A+ and B+ blood types. Rare O – (negative) blood is called “the universal donor” because it can be used for transfusions for any blood type.

So why aren’t Black people donating blood as an act of political agency? There may be legitimate physical impediments. High blood pressure and high cholesterol counts, common complaints among older Black Americans, may prevent blood donation. Low hemoglobin may also be a factor.

Examining the non-medical barriers that prevent more Black people from becoming blood donors may offer a window into some of the disparities in how the medical treatment of Black patients differs from the experience of non-Black patients. These barriers reflect deeply embedded forms of racism, which manifest in socio-economic hardships, as well as subtler forms of injustice.

For example, recent findings from Transit Center reveal that in 2021, five percent of Black workers in Los Angeles take mass transit to work, higher than other demographics included in the study. It’s undeniable that bus and rail travel around our region usually requires more time than driving, thus making a lunch-hour visit to a blood donation center unlikely for mass-transit riders. This reality has been further exacerbated by the closure of many blood collection venues in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Memories of Tuskegee linger in the American memory as they should, especially in conversation with Black American elders. The Red Cross reports that some potential donors express fear that donating blood may make them vulnerable to HIV. Statements like this may, in fact, mask a deeper distrust among Black Americans regarding the healthcare system.

CNN reports that only 6 percent of US doctors are Black; that’s roughly half of the percentage of the US Black population. Institutional and systemic racism frequently results in marginalized Black patients who report feeling “unseen” and “unheard,” thus creating the need for more culturally sensitive practices, beginning with healthcare practitioners who look like their patients or at least understand them culturally.

Even if you miss this event, get involved. Black thought leaders have a powerful opportunity to organize blood drives specifically to motivate Black Americans to donate blood. Access to precious resources, including blood, is indeed at the beating heart of healthy communities.

Check out these FAQs: to be sure that you’re healthy and ready to donate blood.

The short URL of this article is:

Victoria Thomas

Victoria has been a journalist since her college years when she wrote for Rolling Stone and CREEM. Victoria describes the view of Mt. Wilson from her front step as “staggering,” and she is a defender of peacocks everywhere.
Email: [email protected]

Latest from Cohesion & Community

Accessibility Tools