This month, our office is making the quantum leap to electronic medical records and to achieving "Meaningful Use." Never heard of it? Meaningful Use refers to a set of criteria defined and mandated by the federal government to (allegedly) increase collection and reporting of health information electronically, in order to make the information more accessible to those who need it (including our patients).
One of these mandatory pieces of information, not surprisingly, is race and ethnicity. What was surprising to me, however, was how this information is defined and how it made me think about the human family.
The Meaningful Use categories mandated by the government on ethnicity and race (self-proclaimed) are revised every few years, but now are comprised of these definitions:
For Ethnicity, we have:
a) Hispanic or Latino
b) Non-Hispanic or Latino
And for Race we have… the human race? Nope, just the old divisions:
a) American Indian or Alaska Native
c) Black or African American
d) Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
According to the Office of Management and Budget, the division of the White House in charge of these definitions: "The categories represent a social political construct designed for collecting data on the race and ethnicity of broad population groups in this country, and are not anthropologically or scientifically based" (?!?!)
Certainly tracking diseases, and how they occur in different subsets of the population, can be useful. But consider how and why do we decide to categorize human skin color? The more we meet, mingle, and make love, the more we smudge the boundaries between these categories.
This poem from actor/author Phil Porter says it beautifully:
"The Color of Their Skin"
Black, white, red, yellow, brown. Whoever thought up that system? Obviously not a gay man.
Here is the new system for dividing people according to skin color:
Mocha, butternut, beige, cinnamon, midnight, ecru, ebony, cream, taupe, coffee, rose, parchment, melon, ochre, seashell, terra cotta, olive, ginger, taro, beechwood, tan, bone, sandstone, caramel, golden, peach, cloud, oak, burnt umber.
Ok—Everybody get organized! Into your groups!