Speaking up. After Angelina Jolie‘s daughter, Zahara, couldn’t receive the surgical care she needed because of her skin color, her mom called out the medical system’s lack of awareness around non-white patients.
In an interview with Time on Wednesday, June 23, Jolie talked to medical student Malone Mukwende about how, as a mom of several children of color, she’s aware of the medical system’s bias toward non-white patients.
“I have children from different backgrounds, and I know when there was a rash that everybody got, it looked drastically different depending on their skin color,” Jolie said. “But whenever I looked at medical charts, the reference point was always white skin.”
The Maleficent star went on to reveal how her eldest daughter, Zahara, 16, experienced bias after a surgery because of her race. “Recently my daughter, Zahara, whom I adopted from Ethiopia, had surgery, and afterward a nurse told me to call them if her skin ‘turned pink,’” Jolie said.
Jolie shares Zahara with her ex-husband, Brad Pitt. The former couple are also parents to Maddox, 19, Pax, 17, Shiloh, 15, and 12-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne. Like Zahara, Jolie and Pitt‘s eldest sons, Maddox and Pax, were also adopted. Maddox was adopted from Cambodia, while Pax was adopted from Vietnam.
After Jolie told him about what Zahara went through with a nurse, Mukwende a 21-year-old medical student from London who is researching racial bias in the medical system, talked about how Zahara’s experience was the “kind of thing” he “started to notice early on” in his research.
“Almost the entirety of medicine is taught in that way. There’s a language and a culture that exists in the medical profession, because it’s been done for so many years and because we are still doing it so many years later it doesn’t seem like it’s a problem,” he said. “However, like you’ve just illustrated, that’s a very problematic statement for some groups of the population because it’s just not going to happen in that way and if you’re unaware you probably won’t call the doctor.”
Jolie first revealed that two of her daughters had undergone surgery in an essay for Time in March. “I have spent the last two months in and out of surgeries with my eldest daughter, and days ago watched her younger sister go under the knife for a hip surgery,” she wrote. “They know that I am writing this, because I respect their privacy and we discussed it together and they encouraged me to write. They understand that going through medical challenges and fighting to survive and heal is something to be proud of. I have watched my daughters care for one another. My youngest daughter studied the nurses with her sister, and then assisted the next time. I saw how all my girls so easily stopped everything and put each other first and felt the joy of being of service to those they love.”
She went to praise Zahara and her sister for their “resolute bravery.” She continued, “We all know that moment when no one else can help us, and all we can do is close our eyes and breathe. When only we can take the next step or breathe through the pain, so we steady ourselves and do it.”