"A teaspoon of turpentine will not kill you," Haddish said during the interview. "The government doesn't want you to know that if you have a cold, just take some turpentine with some sugar or castor oil or honey and it'll go away the next day."
To state the obvious: Yes, turpentine, a paint-thinner, is a poison, and no, you probably shouldn't consume it.
To be fair, Haddish isn't the only celebrity who's peddled questionable health advice. But, her distrust of traditional medicine and the government points to something very real: Inequality in traditional healthcare might lead marginalised people, Black women in particular, to seek other forms of care.
Schekeva Hall, PhD, the assistant director of outreach programming at Saint John's University Center for Counseling and Consultation, says that she's noticed Black patients and patients of colour may have a harder time trusting doctors.
"Medical mistrust is another representation of how Black people, and Black women in particular, have come to understand how they can protect themselves," she says, citing the Tuskegee experiment (in which the Public Health Service experimented on 600 Black men for 40 years starting in 1932) and Henrietta Lacks' case as events that might unconsciously inform how Black women view the medical field.
"Underrepresented communities of colour have been preyed on, in some ways, by the impact of racism within institutions," Dr. Hall adds.
Yes, plenty of people from all sorts of backgrounds might feel as if they can't trust doctors to take care of them. But, we live in a world where medical textbooks purport that Black people "often report higher pain intensity than other cultures," that they "believe suffering and pain are inevitable," and "they believe in prayer and laying of hands to heal pain and believe that relief is proportional to faith" — harmful stereotypes that get in the way of properly treating Black patients.
We also live in a world where Serena Williams was left bedridden after giving birth, because her doctors initially dismissed her pain — a story that shows just how much we need to improve maternal healthcare, particularly for Black mothers who are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth-related complications than white women.
Historically, maybe Black people had to take medical treatment into their own hands because they couldn’t go to a doctor or didn’t trust the medical system.
Joy Harden Bradford, PhD
While not all Black women resort to drinking turpentine for health reasons, it's understandable why someone would, as Haddish states, distrust "the government" or traditional healthcare systems and opt for other methods of care. Though it may seem more useful to talk to your doctor and advocate for your own health, Dr. Hall says that it isn't always easy for Black women to do so, because "sometimes Black voices may not be seen as reputable."
"As a practitioner, it’s a narrative that I see with a lot of people, but particularly Black women and men," she says. "There’s this concern about how well they’re heard. As someone who identifies as a Black woman as well, when I ask [about this] in sessions or even in my friend groups and family, it’s the same thing: They have concerns about how the medical field or medical professionals respond to them."
Dr. Bradford agrees: "Black women’s experiences are typically invalidated and not believed."
So, when your experiences are dismissed and history makes you fearful, it's natural to explore other ways of taking care of yourself — whether they come in the form of home remedies or, in Haddish's case, YouTube videos. But, Dr. Bradford cautions that you should use them within reason.
"It was one thing when you had these medical treatments passed down the family," she says. "[But] now, with such readily accessible information available online, anyone who tries anything and says it works makes it look like, Oh I can try this, too, which can be very dangerous."
In other words, don't down turpentine just because Tiffany Haddish does it. But, don't dismiss Haddish's comments as "strange" or wacky, either. As Dr. Hall says, "Tiffany is very real and people love her for that. And, she’s not afraid to put certain things out there, and she, in some ways, is a scapegoat for bigger issues at play."
If anything, her anecdote and the subsequent reaction to it, point to a need for Black women to be taken seriously when they're seeking healthcare so that they receive treatment in the safest possible ways.
"We need to think about how we can get clinicians, physicians, and the healthcare system to be culturally aware of the populations they’re going to treat — to not necessarily come in with judgment, but with a space of curiosity," Dr. Hall says.
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