Here we are again, mourning the death of another black person at the hands of the people that are supposed to protect and defend our rights. Another casualty in the 400+ year struggle that we have had in this country to be granted the same right to liberty, the same access to success and the same ability to live without fear, that we were promised. And while this may seem dramatic and hyperbolic to some, I wonder how many people would like to trade places with black people in this country. It often feels like it is OK to hear our voices when it relates to music, sports, and other forms of entertainment, but when it comes to the tough issues that crush our communities, the fervor of the backlash, the push to discredit our concerns and the silence from our advocates that maintains the status quo is maddening.
My aim here is not to preach. I know we are all busy and consumed by our own set of responsibilities and commitments to our homes and our communities. It is sometimes hard for people to care about issues that do not seem to directly affect those whom they care for the most, but I would argue that to not show the same level of anger and frustration when another citizen of this country from any walk of life is treated like George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery or Sandra Bland or Trayvon Martin, is to show that their lives have less value in your eyes. We, as a country, seem to have lost the ability to show humanity and empathy. We are angry for a week when an egregious event happens, and by the next week, we do not even remember what we were upset about to begin with. The reasons for this are multifactorial, but it perpetuates the treatment that the poor and disenfranchised groups of people in this country have been fighting against for centuries. We are tired of being unheard, of being looked at as complainers, of being labeled as “thugs,” of being told to “shut up and dribble,” of being told “that’s not the right way to protest” when we did not create the foundation that put us in this situation and when we are not afforded the same privileges to make the changes that we want to see.
I often feel like an outlier in the black community in that my experience as a black man in America does not look like the one that the media likes to portray. I’ve had a life of privilege, I went to a private school growing up, and I had opportunities to succeed. I know I’m not the only black professional who feels this way, and I don’t pretend like my struggle is anywhere near what others have to endure, but my journey has not been free from the outward or subtle racism that continues to cause my people to suffer. The only difference is that I had the tools and support to overcome it. We are one of the first generations of black people in the U.S. that have been given more of a chance for upward mobility, and we feel an immense duty to one another to make a difference for minority communities who are not as fortunate. Every time we have to see one of our people get killed or maimed in the street or in their home with no public outrage and minimal retribution, it eats away at our hearts. It is a gentle reminder that in this country, our problems are not quite important enough to warrant the radical change that we have demanded and deserved. Some would argue that we are equal and that racism and colorism does not exist in this country, but to expect that more than 400 years of racist laws will be undone by 50 years of legislation that is not overtly racist, is outrageous. And to believe that systemic racism does not continue to plague communities is to be complicit in allowing it to continue. Our successes are a culmination of generations of our ancestors fighting past racism and prejudice in this country so that we can finally taste a modicum of success that white people have had access to since this country was founded.
As physicians, we take an oath to “do no harm,” and our profession is rooted in the ideals of compassion, empathy, and a commitment to improving the lives of others. I believe that this is an issue that falls within that space and is deserving of our efforts to make a change. Having lived in and seen many cities and states in this country, I have had the opportunity to treat people from so many walks of life. I have always strived to empathize with and understand the experiences of people from diverse backgrounds because I know they deserve that validation, I know that will help me to connect with them on more than a superficial level, and I know that in many settings, they often are not afforded that level of dignity. I think it’s unfortunate that it took the filmed death of another black person to spark this level of outrage in our country, but I hope that we as a nation use this opportunity to take a very hard look at ourselves and figure out what we actually value as a society. We all want the same opportunities to pursue happiness in this country, and that has forever been our cry since that first slave ship arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. I challenge everyone to not let this situation become last week’s news because it’s our reality every day.
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