Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Un)Wanted: Negro Blood Donors and the Campaign to Change U.S. Blood Donor Policies

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Un)Wanted: Negro Blood Donors and the Campaign to Change U.S. Blood Donor Policies

Article excerpt


Black Americans do not give blood at levels comparable to White Americans (Boulware et al., 2002; Murphy et al., 2009; Shaz & Hillyer, 2010; Shaz, James, Schreiber, & Hillyer, 2011). The trend has prevailed for decades despite mounting evidence that positive surgical outcomes for Black patients would greatly improve if they were transfused with blood from a racial or ethnic pool with closer phenotype matches to their own (Roberts et al., 2012; Shaz & Hillyer, 2010). Disparities in outcomes are especially noticeable in African American recipients of blood transfusions for both specialized (sickle cell anemia) and generalized hospitalized patients (Garratty, Glynn, & McEntire, 2004; Sarode & Altuntas, 2006; Shaz & Hillyer, 2010; Noizat-Pirenne, 2013; St-Louis et al. 2014). Although several Historically Black Colleges and Universities, black churches, and other civic groups have launched successful blood donation recruitment initiatives (Price, Johnson, Lindsay, Dalton, & DeBaun, 2009), these efforts have generally not resulted in any wide scale changes in blood donor practices among Black Americans and significant improvements are needed (Shaz & Hillyear, 2010; Shaz, et al., 2011).

A number of studies have offered plausible explanations for these observed differences in blood donor practices. Among the reasons often cited are ones suggesting a lack of motivation for giving, lack of awareness about the importance of giving, or the lack of convenient access to facilities to give (Bednall, 2011; Boulware et al. 2002; James, Schreiber, Hillyer, & Shaz, 2013). Scholars also point to low donation levels as another legacy of the Tuskegee study (Shaz, James, Demmons, Schreiber, & Hillyer, 2010) which has led to overall skepticism, a lack of Black participants in clinical trials, and a general hostility toward a medical establishment that is seen as racially biased and not always welcoming to minorities. Low donation levels have also been attributed to the relative poorer health status of blacks which often make them unsuitable candidates even when they desire and attempt to donate their blood (James, Hillyer & Shaz, 2012).

Blood has always carried social and cultural baggage, from the liquid's religious significance described throughout the Bible to the medieval image of blood, revived by HIV and other viruses, as the bearer of evil and death. The Egyptians bathed in it, Victorian era doctors drained it to remove evil humors and audiences worldwide recoiled from the horrors of blood-sucking vampires (Starr, 1998). But the significance of blood is not limited to mythology and ancient times. It has played a major role in the twentieth century, particularly during wartime. D-Day caused anxiety when it was questioned whether enough blood had been stored by military planners. The Persian Gulf War resulted in the shipment of massive quantities of blood in anticipation of casualties (Starr, 1998).

It is perhaps ironic that one of the greatest medical advances of all time, the miracle of twentieth century blood transfusions, occurred during wartime. World War I and the Spanish Civil War provided occasion for the development and refinement of blood transfusion; however it was during World War II that the critical need for blood led to massive media campaigns to encourage blood donations (Fischer, 1992) and the rapid expansion of blood collecting agencies (Feldschuh & Weber, 1990). Dr. Charles Drew, a distinguished Black American researcher and blood expert, developed technologies in blood collection which saved many lives (American Red Cross, 1946; Starr, 1998; Morais, 1968) - however this same era was marked by concerns about blood and identity, anxieties about race missing, and the determination of many to safeguard the separation of the races (Freund, 1970).

Many historians note that as the U.S. became more engaged in the war, the numbers of enlisted Blacks increased, and they too responded to the call to give blood. …

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