I realize that my giving a kidney, specifically on behalf of a Black woman, has a badass quality to it. It’s visceral, and seen as brave, and on the extreme end of what people tend to do for each other, at least in peacetime. “You inspire me,” I’m sometimes told.
But a prime tenet of anti-racism is measuring the impact of our actions, rather than our intentions.
I am not having a badass impact, because Gloria still hasn’t received her new kidney.
In answer to people’s kind inquiries: I am now, eight-plus weeks from kidney transplant surgery, fully recovered. I’m back to my usual work schedule and doing my plank poses. I’m running hills on Mt. Tabor again. Yay.
But my return to good health after kidney transplant surgery was so statistically likely, it had never been much in question. Hospitals only let you give a kidney if they feel confident you’ll recover from transplant surgery.
The goal here has always been to return Gloria to her good health, the state she was in before she got kidney disease and started spending her Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on dialysis.
In recent history (I mean within COVID times) 60% of people in Gloria’s and my paired donation program got their new kidneys within 45 days of their partner’s donation. We are now at 63 days, with Gloria’s new kidney nowhere in sight.
We’re all part of a bigger picture of privilege and systemic racism, even when we haven’t “done anything” racist, ourselves. A few examples:
- Blacks in the U.S. suffer from kidney failure at a rate three times higher than whites.
- Blacks are 13.2% of the U.S. population, but constitute 35% of people receiving dialysis.
- People die an average of five years after starting dialysis. Gloria’s in her fourth year on it.
- Blacks are dying from COVID-19 at a rate far greater than that of whites (Gloria survived a bad bout with COVID last year).
I asked Gloria’s permission to talk with Dan, our kidney coordinator, about the hold-up on her receiving her kidney. She told me to go ahead. I got him on the phone.
“Lots of people with O blood are waiting for kidneys,” Dan told me (Gloria has O blood). “And we’ve got a shortage of O kidneys being donated. Also, transplants have slowed down in general lately.”
“I’m worried that Gloria’s becoming part of the statistics of Black people being on the short end of the stick,” I said. “Don’t take this personally, but racism is systemic.”
“I’ve got a white male who’s been waiting for a kidney for almost six months,” Dan said.
I wasn’t exactly comforted by that fact, nor when Dan told me that in paired donations like mine and Gloria’s, this waiting period of unknown length between giving and receiving is always the hardest part. I said good-bye and relayed the conversation back to Gloria. “I’ll continue to pray,” she said.
I think more than prayer is needed. But I don’t know what to do next. We’ve got a micro-level problem — Gloria’s need of a kidney — that’s part of a huge, stubborn, macro-level problem — a medical (and housing, transportation, employment, you-name-it) system that serves Black people, and other people of color, profoundly less effectively than it does whites.
To loop back to the beginning: the Oxford definition of a badass is a person who is tough, uncompromising or intimidating.
But in my pursuit of anti-racism, I want strength and effectiveness to be the new definition of badassery. At least as a white person, I see toughness and intimidation as being what led to the oppressed system we are now operating in.
I feel like a rank beginner. I don’t know what to do next to help Gloria get her kidney. Maybe I’m mistaken in thinking I can do something at this juncture.
In two hours, though, my Anti-Racism group is meeting. We’re five women who’ve been getting together on Zoom since the middle of last year, originally brought together by the wise and experienced Theresa Logan of Subduction Consulting.
We encourage each other, give advice when it’s requested. I will be happy to ask for my group’s advice. I have a lot to learn about being anti-racist.