Global Racial Bias, Black History and Change

On the eve of what is the most important presidential election of my lifetime, I am especially concerned and troubled about the increasing racial division engulfing our country…and the world.

There are not “good people on both sides.”  There is no good or positive side to acts that embody evil or malice.  Far too much of the dissension is the product of racial discrimination and racial bias. In the United States we are reckoning with having long overdue conversations about racial injustice.  No matter who wins the election, these conversations, though uncomfortable, can no longer be pushed aside. The rest of the world should take note that bias –  both implicit and explicit – inflicts pain, disrespect and oppression.  This is a new realization for many. But for people of color and other minorities, the sting of bias is a fact of life.

“Last month, in an incident that made headlines in Britain — and spurred a public apology from the acting head of the country’s court system — Ms. Wilson was shouted at for entering the court to defend her client, one of three times that day she was assumed to be a defendant.”

Alexandra Wilson, an Oxford graduate and lawyer in London, shared her painful reality in “What a Barrister Looks Like: A Young Black Woman Paves The Way”. Her story relates how she was ridiculed and subjected to acts of racial bias, and how she has chose to deal with it. I encourage you to click the link and read the article for a greater understanding of her story and the role bias played.  She used this moment and the obstacles to initiate change.

“…[S]he wants to lift up other women of color who are making their way into the profession. This year, she founded Black Women in Law, a community for aspiring lawyers and women already in the field. The group has close to 600 members who connect for conversations, advice and mentoring and organizes online events for schools.”

Bias hits home in moments that to others may be minor, but are, in fact, revealing. I have bookcases in my office that are visible when I’m in work-related Zoom meetings. Some colleagues  ask questions like, “Are those your books?” “YOU read all those books?” “You didn’t strike me as someone who reads books…that’s a lot of books.” Mere innocent curiosity or perhaps non-reflective implicit bias? I wonder if those questions would have been asked of a white person in the same environment, because what I heard is “What are YOU doing with all those books” “You read?”

When I was developing marketing programs for McDonald’s, there was an initiative called 365Black. Central to the theme was that celebrating Black history isn’t about a day, a week or a month.  That basic premise of 365Black takes on even greater significance and power today.  Open conversations about racial injustice is one way for us to begin healing and repairing the systemic ravages of discrimination.  Change through deeds and actions is another.  Alexandra Wilson chose the latter. By her actions, she proves that Black history is made everyday.

“It’s so important that kids see Black female lawyers,” Ms. Wilson said. “I didn’t, and I wanted to.”

 

The Enduring Pandemic…Racial Bias

The onslaught of COVID-19 media coverage, health inequity news reports, and recent personal and professional encounters prompted me to take a hard look at racial bias.

In my opinion, many of us can’t help but bring preconceived beliefs about race, ethnicity, religion and sex, among other topics, to life situations and experiences. I am not the first one to say this, but racial bias and racism are pre-existing conditions.

Many of those biases are stereotypically negative and based on ignorance and a lack of awareness about people different than ones that are in an individual’s “circle of comfort and familiarity.”

 Simply put, the pandemic is disproportionately ravaging and killing Black and Brown people. The reasons are complex, but the root cause is, at least in part, attributed to historic and systemic racism. The by-products of such bias touch every facet of racial minority life in America. Yes, the disparities that exist between People of Color and White people have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The residual effect is chilling.

 I read “Pandemic Brings out Biases Experienced by Minorities today in Philadelphia’s daily newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer. The article, for me, was confirmation and validation of what Black and Brown people have always known to be true. Using the experience of Karla Monterroso as a backdrop, the article explains:

“Because when we go and seek care, if we are advocating for ourselves, we can be treated as insubordinate…and if we are not advocating for ourselves, we can be treated as invisible.”

 “Her experiences, she reasons, are part of why people of color are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. It is not merely because they are more likely to have front-line jobs that expose them to it and the underlying conditions that make COVID-19 worse.”

“That is certainly part of it, but the other part is the lack of value people see in our lives,” Monterroso wrote in a Twitter thread detailing her experience.”

”Research shows how doctors’ unconscious bias affects the care people receive, with Latino and Black patients being less likely to receive pain medications or get referred for advanced care than white patients with the same complaints or symptoms, and more likely to die in childbirth from preventable complications.”

Karla’s story made me angry. It made me feel a profound resentment and disgust for what is undeniably a more devastating and enduring threat than the pandemic — racial bias.

I realize that I am blessed. I do not face home or food insecurity. I have medical coverage. Tomorrow I will go to work, turn on and sit in front of my computer.

But the kick in the gut occurs when I think about those whose means are less than mine. I think about my sisters and brothers who suffer with higher infection rates…lower paying and riskier jobs…inadequate or sub-par public services…and daily face the scourge of a pandemic that affects in profoundly disproportionate ways.

I feel resentment and disgust for what is undeniably a more devastating and enduring threat than the pandemic…racial bias in America.

The pandemic and similar misfortunes reveal the underlying dark truth of racial bias.

We can do better.

We have to do better.

Because?

Our lives matter.

 

 

IT ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE – Creating a Big Tent for Clinical Trials

I just celebrated three years working in the pharmaceutical space. The simplest explanation of what I do is to market strategy and communications that drive product awareness and, ultimately, customer purchase of a suite of clinical trial solutions.

 

In layman’s terms, I advertise solutions that help get medicine to the market faster.  In my role, I have no contact with patients or involvement with the implementation and/or execution of clinical trials.  However, this access that I am granted does give me a special perspective.

 

I had a conversation with an individual whose job is to lead clinical trial diversity for a large pharmaceutical organization.  This individual was sympathetic and resolute in how they face the challenges associated with achieving the application of diversity in the trials that their company implements.  However, they pointed out that the necessary allocation of resources and commitment was the greatest and most daunting challenge they face on an ongoing basis.

“I am able to make compelling arguments (to my superiors) in favor of diversity in clinical trials. But without a model that shows an immediate return on investment, the need is nothing more than a conversation without a resolution.”

 

In another example of industry complacency, I reflect on the global and domestic industry conferences, seminars and meetings I have attended.  As part of their programming, they offer what is billed as the “patient perspective.”  This is typically a panel or round-table discussion that includes patients who are trial participants. Without exception, the patient representation did not include people of color.  When I questioned this lack of diversity, the responses were a mix of bewilderment as to “why” I would ask the question and an often-repeated refrain of we could not find any minority patients.

 

How do we understand the impact of drugs on race when the minority participation in trials is underrepresented?

 

According to the U.S. Census, Black or African-Americans represent 13.4% of the U.S. population.  The FDA has reported only 5% participation in clinical trials by the same population.  This under-representation suggests not only a systemic industry problem, but (it) begs a larger and more important question — Are new medications effective and viable for all populations?  The racial composition and make-up of individuals enrolled in trials that lead to approval of drugs must be comparable to the overall population.  This is especially true if the medication is going to be effective once approved.

 

New York Times opinion columnist Charles Blow was the first to raise the issue of racial disparity in his April 1st column, The Racial Time Bomb in the COVID 19 Crisis.  My conclusion was that, under normal circumstances, it was vitally important to address the challenge of finding ways to increase minority participation in clinical trials.  Given the onset of the pandemic and its affects on African-Americans, it is absolutely critical.  Diversity and inclusion is not a nice thing to do. It is a bridge to building trust with what has historically been, with good reason, a skeptical and resistant audience.

 

Change starts at the top.  I experienced this first-hand while working on the McDonald’s brand.  While the company is best known for selling hamburgers and soft drinks, it has also been the benefactor of unprecedented powerful consumer connections.  McDonald’s understood that there is never one simple solution to building a trusting relationship.  But by demonstrating community commitment, engagement and investment, McDonald’s was able to effectively tap into what its brand stands for in the hearts and minds of African-American consumers.

 

Dr. Althea Maybank, the American Medical Association’s Chief Equity Officer and Group Vice-President sums it perfectly in the NBC News article, “A COVID-19 Vaccine Will Work Only If Trials Include Black Participants.”

 

“With any relationship, you build it,” she said. “Folks doing work from leading institutions have asked, ‘How do we build trust?’ Well, it’s not rocket science. It’s about building relationships. Are you getting to know me beforehand? Are you speaking in a language I understand? Are the concepts broken down so that they are digestible? Are you present? Are you giving resources to our neighborhoods beforehand? That’s not rocket science. It’s building a relationship. That’s how you build trust. And trust is a fundamental value in humans. There’s no rocket science behind it.”

 

Mother Nature Displays Her “Spring Collection”

“I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow.” – David Hobson

Azalea+, Allium, Iris, Clematis, Hosta, Fern and the assorted statuary…

+The orange azalea is my favorite, the Gibraltar Azalea. 

 

 

“I need my friends. I need my house. I need my garden.”*

Working in my yard fuels my soul.  It always has – whether in Rydal or in the Pocono mountains. This is especially true today during the time of Covid-19. There is much uncertainty and far too many distractions and things that we simply cannot control. Time in my garden is my “go to” safe space.  It gives me hope, gives me purpose and provides a sense of connection to something bigger than myself.

Early Spring is not only a time of renewal.  In the yard, it is the time to discover things that have been forgotten or tucked away as we prepared for the Winter months.  I never really think of gardening as decoration, but as part of an evolving process – a work that is never fully completed, but always transitioning.  My garden esthetic is courtesy of my dear friend Vincent LaBella. He believed that the ideal garden “always has something in bloom…something to look forward to…a collection of instruments that are beautiful alone, but collectively make the sweetest sound one has ever seen.

In my yard this evolution comes to life in late March/early April with a row of eight Redbuds (Pictured) – clusters of tiny magenta buds that swell into showy rosy pink flowers before the leaves appear, with the blossoms putting on a show for two to three weeks. Tulips (Pictured) – classic shapes and colors, that when planted in groupings and complimentary colors provide a spectacular display of light and harmony.  NOTE: I mix early and late Spring bulbs to “extend the show.” Lenten Rose is not really a rose – it gets its name because it blooms around Lent and the flower is shaped somewhat like a rose.  I await the arrival or more “smiling faces” – Viburnum, Hosta, Fern, Astilbe, Hydrangea, Azalea, Peonies, Day Lilly and a host of other perennials.

*”I need my friends. I need my house. I need my garden.” is a quote by English actress Miranda Richardson.  I do not know the context that she was speaking of, but it perfectly sums up how I feel.  Whether through cards, notes, phone calls or Face Time; I find myself heavily relying on (and needing) a connection to the individuals who matter most to me in life.  We laugh, cry, joke and sustain meaningful interactions that are as necessary as the air we breathe and the food that sustains us.  My house is my refuge.  A place of security, calm and as Joan Armatrading sang, “...a shelter from the storm.”  Research shows that gardening can reduce the risk of stroke, burn calories, decreases the likelihood of osteoporosis and can also reduce the risk of heart disease.  For me it is a stress reduction – it lowers cortisol – the stress hormone –  and gives me a connection to the land. It is the Anti-News Media.  By “working the dirt,” I have the opportunity to focus on beauty and this inspires me to experience feelings of awe, gratitude, and abundance.