Such demands not only put wear and tear on black women’s bodies but also leave little time and energy for addressing their health needs. Obesity — more common among black women than among white women, or men of either race — “drives a lot of our leading conditions that lead to high mortality,” Hinton Hoytt said. “Fat just squeezes the life out of us.”
Black-oriented radio and cable television networks run public service announcements about diabetes, hypertension, and the dangers of HIV and AIDS. But aside from the month of October, or leading up to major fundraising walks, breast cancer is rarely discussed in media targeted to the black community.
Karen Eubanks Jackson, founder of the Sisters Network, a national organization of African American breast cancer survivors, suggests that black women have not had a prominent role in the breast cancer movement. White women, she said, see themselves depicted in the media as survivors. “They champion each other as survivors. It’s very difficult for an African American woman to open a magazine and see someone saying, ‘I’m a survivor.’ ”
Jackson, an 18-year survivor, said she founded the organization because there was no national voice to speak to the disease’s disproportionate effect on black women. The Sisters Network has chapters in 43 cities and 22 states.
“Stop the Silence” is the organization’s slogan, Jackson said, because “there has been a definite increase in awareness, but the fact is women still are hesitant to speak up, whether to ask questions about the disease itself or to accept the fact that they’ve been diagnosed with it.” Jackson’s group has partnered with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a national black women’s organization, on education efforts.
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has a program and a Web site called the Circle of Promise, which recruits black women to share information about the disease with other black women.
“We think that, like so many things, we value the information of our peers. That’s the philosophy behind the Circle of Promise,” said Susan Brown, director of health education for Komen. About 110,000 women have signed up as “ambassadors” and, armed with facts about screening and treatment, they spread the word in churches, sororities and business groups.