As a Black woman who had two pregnancies in the Mountain West, there were many moments I felt invisible. During prenatal appointments, I never interacted with Black care providers—or even desk attendants—and I rarely saw a Black family on an in-office brochure. Each appointment I felt a familiar discomfort. I didn't realize it then, but the lack of Black images on medical materials is one of many examples of how whiteness is presented as standard. Feeling like an outsider at the doctor's office adds another layer of discomfort in a medical system that's already failing Black patients, especially those who are expectant parents.
Medical illustrator and student, Chidiebere Ibe, had this kind of discomfort in mind as he was creating his recent viral illustration showing a Black fetus in utero. The image doesn't have a description but loudly communicates that Black people deserve to see themselves reflected in medical settings.
Ibe's illustration has more than 90,000 likes, countless shares from people all over the world, and thousands of comments of overwhelming support across Instagram and Twitter. "This is beautiful! I have my master's in the states and not a single Anatomy textbook had a Black illustration in it! Netter is the only text used! I'd love to see your book distributed in the future!" wrote user @rosestellapierrelouis.
The fact that Ibe made such a small shift to a common reproductive image and that garnered such an overwhelming response demonstrates the enormity of the gap that needs to be filled. It is crucial for Black birthing people to feel seen and safe as they interact with the medical system. His illustrations are especially important as we learn more about the mistreatment that Black parents experience while seeking pregnancy and postpartum care.
In response to Ibe's illustration, Dr. Raven Baxter, an award-winning scientist, educator and rapper known as Dr. Raven the Science Maven, used her platform to ask, "Have you ever seen a dark-skinned Black baby inside a pregnant mother illustrated in medical texts?". The poll received 3,868 replies and nearly 97% of respondents said they had never seen a similar image.
Ibe's work provides many with their first image normalizing the Black body during pregnancy - and he's not stopping there. His Instagram has tens of illustrations, many of which show dark-skinned individuals with conditions that are rarely portrayed on nonwhite skin, including cleft lips and cleft palates and ovarian cancer.
"The underrepresentation of black skin medical illustration in medical textbooks and as tool of communication in the public health sector has brought a bridge in Doctor-Patient communication" Ibe wrote on an Instagram post in July. "My goal is to create medical illustrations of such, and this can't be done with a fair knowledge of medicine."
As more research confirms the widespread presence and life-threatening impact of bias in medicine, Ibe's illustrations normalize Black and brown bodies. They belong to patients and humans – they're not just deviations from a white standard.
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