Last week, our own Akiba Solomon chatted with legendary turntablist, writer, and activist Kuttin Kandi. Kandi's career is full of barriers busted and achievements earned, but in her personal life, she's been waging long battles for her mental and physical health. These are fights that aren't easy for anyone; facing them as a big woman of color, however, she's got struggles beyond her due. Akiba writes:
Telling your medical business to a judgmental world is not an easy thing. But Kandi has been documenting her experience in a series of Facebook posts called "Notes of a Revolutionary Patient." So far, she's spoken of childhood sexual abuse and cutting, bulimia and exercise binges, suicide attempts and therapy, nonstop work and the trauma of living in a large body when the specter of fat-phobia even interferes with medical care. Think of her dispatches as a social media analogue to Audre Lorde's Cancer Journals.
... Kandi's experience reflects recent findings about how fat bias results in women being misdiagnosed, receiving inaccurate drug dosages, paying higher insurance premiums and even facing delays in cancer detection.
Fat bias stands at the intersection of a host of social issues, and it makes itself especially visible when we discuss women of color owning (or not owning) their own bodies. And it's this same context-free bias that fuels everything from unequal treatment in hospitals to arguments against health care for poor people. Kandi is facing massive medical bills because her insurance company says it won't cover the costs of her pacemaker surgery; she's running a fundraiser to help with part of the bills.
Here in the Colorlines.com community, we have some healthy diversity of opinion on this issue. Here's what you had to say.
As a student of the medical profession, I appreciate hearing Kandi's thoughts. It is hard to get around biases because we know the medical problems associated with weight and that much of the obesity in the country is a result of lifestyle decisions. But, there are also many social factors that contribute to why certain groups are plagued by obesity and other health conditions as well. I try to talk with my patients about what weight loss methods they think might work for them or what they are willing to try. I don't believe that just yelling at someone to lose weight will ever be effective.
While I unfortunately can't say I've never judged a patient for being overweight, I do my best to step back, look at my biases, and work with the patient to achieve our common health goals. The bottom line is that regardless of size, everyone deserves a health team who is caring and understanding of their needs.
Reading this is overwhelming. It is almost like Kandi the human being is lost in a million labels. Kandi the human being needs help in multiple areas of her life. It seems to me her most urgent need is her health, and it's horrifying to think that lack of health insurance could limit her ability to achieve her most urgent need.
Bill Fabrey of the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination:
Sadly, her experience is typical for very large people in our society and healthcare settings. Some doctors and nurses are aware of this, and try to compensate for their bigoted colleagues. So many of my own friends, family members, and associates have been through the same kinds of treatment as Kandi.
Bigotry is bigotry, no matter what you call it. As she says, it is wrong to judge her by the size of her body. If you're big, you're lucky to survive in such healthcare settings, although it helps a lot if a family member or close friend acts as your advocate.
I've been an Anomolies stan (devoted fan for those not familiar with the vernacular), for years and am very familiar with Kandi's issues. It is a bit of a miracle in itself that she is still with us in light of the many things she has endured. Because of that, I have no doubt she will get through this latest trial and continue to be one of the most positive and inspiring stories in not only hip hop, but in the whole of American culture.
Thank you for sharing your story. As someone who struggles with an ED and who has also had to be a very strong advocate for my health since almost dying at the hands of medical professionals, I know what it's like. We have similar stories. Best of luck, although you don't need it. You're strong and your message resonates. Abundance in all good things to you. Love and light.
The Real Cie:
I can relate to the invisible diagnoses for sure. I don't have the money to get these things addressed. My doctor is pretty good about not shaming me for my weight. He does what he can and acknowledges the hypertension and hypothyroidism, which can be treated with fairly inexpensive medications. However, my psych issues have never been addressed and I can't afford to have them addressed. So I just fly by the seat of my pants. I also have E.D. issues.
I wish you the best. I hope that one day doctors will realize that shaming heavy patients does nothing except make us not want to seek medical care.
Michelle Jb voices some dissent:
I remember seeing videos of her back in 1990. And though I have compassion, reading this article feels like excuses. If you choose to not DEAL with your problems but hide behind them due to 'familial shame' etc., you yourself are killing yourself. I know that sounds harsh, but at this juncture stop fucking around with excuses and get real with your health. Throw ALL conditioning out the window and put YOU, not no cause, not no past abuse, not no Philo cultural politics, or else you're going to die. And die too young. Good luck.
If I sound like an asshole, so be it. But seriously, just sick of how too many folks create all this other nonsense like being an activist because you are choosing NOT to heed what the doctor says. Okay, you're depressed - been there. But when a doctor tells you to lose weight, you need to take that upon yourself and ask them HOW. Ask for contacts, ask for help. It's YOUR job to look after yourself, not others. A huge problem with health in this country is folks want to live how they live and than when they're sick seek help versus keeping healthy in the first place.
Cara Lisa Berg Powers responds:
She's not making excuses, she's laying out real issues that have been in the way of her getting the treatment she needs WHILE ALSO dealing with the real health problems in front of her. This is a powerful piece people should read. We can address nutrition and activity issues without assuming every person of size is monolithic. It's about being treated like whole people and not numbers, so we can all be our healthiest selves.
[...] To really solve the issues at hand, people need to be addressed individually. The fact is, the numbers on the scale do not tell the whole story and they're not the best starting point for getting healthier. If a doctor makes lifestyle recommendations without first knowing your lifestyle, then that's like making a prescription without an exam.
as does Denarii Monroe:
?> All I can say is, if only it were that simple, Michelle. Easier said than done. [...] I'm a big woman of color too, and reading this piece is a great eye opener. [...] Mental health awareness is very important to me, and I think it's a HUGE factor in the fight against obesity (as opposed to the fight against fatness, which is purely aesthetic and fosters fat phobia) -- a factor that most people, including medical professionals, completely disregard, consciously or not. Mental health is a reason, not an excuse.
and Amanda G:
I love when articles like this are posted, because one can see very quickly precisely what the limits and boundaries of "the revolution" are. This woman's story is one that is shared by many and needs to be told; I love that she is documenting it.
and Zetoile Imma:
Please do tell how someone does throw all "conditioning" out the window? Do you throw it out with oppression? And right along with clinical depression, eating disorders, diabetes and anxiety?
From my reading, DJ Kuttin Kandi is not putting forward excuses, nor is she in denial. She is asking that her health and disease be put into holistic context. You know, the mind/spirit/body triad we love to know around when we're off to yoga class. She is asking that her mind/body/spirit be taken into account as she moves forward with strategies for her own healthiness. She is saying that obesity is not her only problem, nor is simply about food. She is saying that if her doctors and healthcare workers are indeed sincerely committed to helping her, they need to take her other interconnected issues into account. She is not killing herself, she is fighting for her life. And she is demanding the kind of healthcare we all deserve.
The last word goes to Kuttin Kandi herself, who was kind enough to grace us in the comments.
Thank you everyone for your beautiful and amazing comments. So much love to you all.
Michelle Jb, thank you for sharing your opinion, but i think you're missing the point of the piece and reasons for sharing my story. Your comments help me realize how much more work we have to do in educating social justice health care, emotional justice, spiritual liberation and so forth... The funny thing in all this is that nowhere have i ever stated that I don't own up to my own responsibility in my health. Nowhere in any of my statements, Facebook posts, or ever in my life have I ever said that I do not have my own personal work to do... As a matter of fact, it's something i've always worked on for as long as I've been conscious of my mental, physical and emotional being.
Part of what I felt was necessary for all the health practitioners i've worked with over the years is that they need to understand that healthcare for all people is also a journey... Healing is a journey. And they can't look at it just from what they see the moment they meet me at a hospital bed. They need to know the whole being, my herstory... my struggles, my needs, the things i've done and haven't done to work on my health. I've been working on my health since 2001. Yes, there have been roadblocks, there have been moments like these where it's a bit of hill to climb... and each time i get back up and I climb it again. Anyone that knows me knows that i will hold myself accountable without a doubt. It's part of being an activist. It's our responsibility to be self-reflective of our work and of ourselves.
So yes, without a doubt I'll hold myself accountable. BUT, as I've stated on my Facebook posts that everyone seems to be reposting, and I'll quote myself: "One thing i'll never do is do the 'bootstrap' talk. i'll never let anyone take away my critical thinking, my revolutionary mind. And a revolutionary mind always know who the oppressor is..." That's the whole point, Michelle Jb.
This article has been altered since publication.