And I think it is past time for people who look like me to listen and pay attention. It is so hard to acknowledge that the place you come from was built on the experience of people who were and continue to be systemically disadvantaged. Just because I am someone who works hard does not mean my hard work is the only thing that got me where I am. My chosen profession of medicine continues to lag behind other fields in diversifying our ranks. There are those in Pathology who continue to try to bring to the forefront the lack of certain voices in our field, but I think most of us have not focused on this issue enough.
To be clear, most institutions have realized that the current moment demands more. Statements have been issued, communities are gathering together, and I think that most folks are paying attention like never before.
The American Medical Association, for example, released a statement titled “Police brutality must stop” in which they also highlighted the negative impact on health that these policies produce:
"Police violence is a striking reflection of our American legacy of racism—a system that assigns value and structures opportunity while unfairly advantaging some and disadvantaging others based on their skin color and “saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources,” as described by leading health equity expert Camara Jones, MD, MPH, PhD. Importantly, racism is detrimental to health in all its forms.”
My alma mater, Johns Hopkins, issued a statement which amongst other things, said this:
"Because we are all intricately connected by our common humanity, if one segment of our community is hurting, it adversely impacts all of us. This is not just an issue for African Americans; it is an issue that threatens the future for all Americans.”
The American Society for Clinical Pathologists issued a statement which did not mince words, saying:
"Profiling any person related to his or her race, religion or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, exceptionalities, language or sexual orientation is incomprehensible within an intellectual and civilized society. Respect for others is a human right, and we will not tolerate differential treatment of any human, not their outside skin color nor their inside genetic makeup. This country is founded on the principles of freedom and an inalienable right that all people are created equal and should be treated as such.”
They also comment: “If we do not speak out against systemic racism and discrimination, we are complicit in perpetuating it.”
And I ask: what does it mean to speak out? I have been in rooms where people in power are making inappropriate comments about patients and colleagues, or where someone was not considered for a position because of their nationality. Sometimes I was in a position to say something, other times, I was fearful. I think it is time for people like me to stop being afraid, and to make noise in those situations. But more important than speaking out with my voice, is to lift the voices of people with the lived experiences that can help others who look like me to understand where all of this pain and anger are coming from. It is the police brutality. (But that’s the tip of this iceberg).
For example: Dr. Sandy Charles, a cardiologist in Charlotte, NC, tweeted about the experience of her husband, who is African American and also a physician. He is pulled over with regularity, sometimes approached with an aggressive stance by law enforcement officers, and feels the need to go out and about wearing scrubs in order to publicly identify himself as a physician in the hopes that those in power will treat him with respect. Let me be clear: all people deserve respect, and just because someone is a physician doesn’t mean they deserve more. But I have no idea what it is like to be afraid when I leave the house, or to fear that my children will be presumed guilty because of the way that they look.
These are the experiences that need to be spoken out loud, for everyone to hear. And I just hope that in the midst of nationwide anxiety over a pandemic, that everyone is listening.