Over the last three months, we have faced a relentless public health crisis due to COVID-19. The pandemic has required many of you to extend special care for vulnerable patients and serve the most critically ill in your communities. COVID-19 has propelled nationalconversations about health disparities and a constellation of inequities, created and sustained by an enduring legacy of structural racism and other forms of structural discrimination.
In as many months, targeted violence towards Black residents of our country has made painfully clear that COVID-19 is not the only public health crisis we must contend with.
In the United States, racism takes and threatens Black lives. In the United States, police violence takes and threatens Black lives.
Ahmaud Arbery- a 25-year old Black man was hunted and murdered while jogging by white residents of a Brunswick, Georgia neighborhood.
Breonna Taylor- a 26-year-old Black woman and emergency room technician was shot and killed by police in her bed after they used a battering ram to crash into and enter her apartment.
George Floyd- a 42-year old Black father of two- handcuffed in police custody- was killed after an officer pinned his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes.
Christian Cooper- a Black man birdwatching in Central Park, was falsely accused by a white woman who called the police to threaten a black person doing nothing wrong.
Don’t run. Don’t sleep. Don’t breathe. Don’t spend time in nature. These are not isolated incidents.
The COVID-19 pandemic has required us to act with urgency. However, we have never acted with urgency in this country to address racism and police violence. The protests around us right now are a symptom of prolonged, complex, and unbearable grief. Black Americans should not experience or sustain this grief alone.
For those of us who are white, we need to plan specific steps we will take as individuals to reduce and eliminate the acts of violence, oppression, and racism that we witness in the news and in the daily lives of Black members of our communities. All non-Black people can do more to challenge injustices that do not directly affect us and the ways that anti-Blackness benefits us. For those of us who represent other minority communities, we need to add our voices and speak up when Black folks and Black bodies are under threats of violence in ways that we may never know or experience.
We must remember that the same systems that devalue Black life are also those that support xenophobia against Asian Americans, continued decimation of Native Americans, persistent oppression of Latin American immigrants, enduring hostility towards Muslims, and debasement of LGBTQ populations and countless others.
Structural racism will not exit politely. It must be broken down in a process that tackles how it has been built up for over 400 years. This process requires changes to our actions as individuals as well as changes to the structures and systems that are embedded within American society.
We all have the capacity and responsibility to diminish and eliminate everyday acts of harmful bias, of violence and of oppression. We need to examine ourselves, our communities and our professions- and the ways that we individually support systems of oppression. We need to examine what we teach our children, what we neglect to teach our children, and how we teach them.
We need to take time to say the names, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Christian Cooper to our family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. We need to have honest conversations about our reactions to their stories. There are countless others whose names we do not know.
We can each find a role as we move forward in pursuit of greater equity. We can be first responders organizing resources for communities in crisis. We can redistribute resources and wealth. We can share and amplify stories of lived experience. We can weave connections between individuals and organizations. There is a place for everyone here.
If you have any reflections we are eager to hear from you.
Katie, Jake, Yolanda, Marshall, and Monica
Portions of this letter were adapted and shared with permission from a recent call-to-action from the Diversity Committee at the University of Chicago Department of Medicine which is led by Dr. Monica Vela. As members of the Diversity Committee and Co-Directors of Bridging the Gap, Dr. Monica Peek and Dr. Marshall Chin were also co-authors with Dr. Vela on a published perspective piece in KevinMD that was also based on this call-to-action. The perspective piece can be found here: https://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2020/06/racialized-violence-and-health-cares-call-to-action.html