Tag Archives: Racial Equality

Silence Still Equals Death

We tend to become emotionally involved when something is personal. The loss of friends and loved ones to HIV/AIDS over the course of thirty years produced a perpetual cycle of loss, pain and goodbyes.  It was the start of my emotional involvement and decision to speak up and do something.

I can’t address the scientific similarities between HIV and COVID-19, but I do know that both had and continue to have a devastating impact on the Black community in this country.

Black people represent 12% of the U.S. population, but account for a much larger share of HIV diagnoses (43%), people estimated to be living with HIV disease (42%), and deaths among people with HIV (44%) than any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S.  Similarly, Black people in the U.S. are infected with COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of White Americans.

Poverty, the lack of access to health care, the lack of awareness and stigma all contribute to the devastation brought on by both diseases.

The bigger culprits are ignorance, indifference, and silence.  Far too many of us are guilty.  The production of COVID-19 vaccines provides optimism and hope. But in this moment, we need more than hope.  We can no longer be silent.  We have to speak up, friends. We have to do something to help each other combat the devastation.  We have an opportunity to increase COVID-19 and HIV education, testing, community involvement and treatment in communities of color – simply put, Silence = Death.

 

He Left a Playbook to Deal With This

While the context was specific to achieving racial equality and not pandemic preparation, another high-profile individual left a detailed document on how to respond to a  crisis.

 

The individual was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the document is a book published in 1967, called “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.”

 

Fifty plus years later, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” presents some hard truths and stark realities that remain relevant and demand our collective attention, perhaps even more so today. Its resonance, while centered on race relations and equality, has justice at its core.

As those of us in the fields of health sciences and healthcare seek to improve health equality and inclusivity, we only need look to Dr. King’s wisdom for insight and direction.

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the answers exist in what Dr. Leon McDougle, (National Medical Association (NMA) President and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and the Chief Diversity Officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center), refers to as the  “already structured forces in the (Black) community that can serve as the basis for building a powerful united front.” Specifically, Dr. McDougle was referencing: The (Black) church, The (Black) media, The (Black) Fraternities & Sororities and (Black) Professional Organizations.

Dr. King’s message is particularly instructive:

“We need organizations that are permeated with mutual trust, incorruptibility and militancy. Without this spirit we may have numbers but they will add up to zero. We need organizations that are responsible, efficient and alert. We lack experience because ours is a history of disorganization. But we will prevail because our need for progress is stronger than the ignorance forced upon us. If we realize how indispensable is responsible militant organization to our struggle, we will create it as we managed to create underground railroads, protest groups, self-help societies and the churches that have always been our refuge, our source of hope and our source of action.” –  (King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, pp 169 – 170)

The “source of hope and our source of action” that Dr. King referenced is precisely my guiding north star.  We must build and foster relationships with organizations, institutions and individuals who are prominent and trusted in the community.

The objective is simple – to illustrate and demonstrate how science can save lives…specifically Black and Brown lives. In order to accomplish this, we must be active and visible participants in remedies and clinical trials that will produce cures and solutions. We are resilient and strong and realize that, while it is a part of the solution, science alone will not save us.  It is important that we rely on ourselves.

Research has proven that people who are able to exert some control over their lives fare better and experience a better quality of life. The challenge is to strengthen our self-reliance and channel it in ways that help us better cope and survive.

COVID-19 is the latest and most prominent disease disproportionately devastating people of color and under-served communities; but that is only one disease in a longer list including HIV, Heart Disease, Diabetes and a host of other maladies.

So, when your pastor, sorority sister, fraternity brother or that individual you respect talks to you about science, clinical trials and how we have to organize the power in our community to save lives, Listen. Ask questions. Become engaged. Get informed. Most importantly, do not ignore Dr. King’s playbook.  Our lives depend upon it.

 

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.

 

 

Portrait of Nina

140811_r25323a-690As a child, my mother introduced me to the music (and politics) of Nina Simone.  It took me years to fully appreciate Simone’s gifts and message.  A contemporary of Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte, “her intelligence and restless force attracted African-American culture’s finest minds.” Simone was was one of the true pioneering voices of the Civil Rights movement. She changed the face of both music and race relations in America.

“Her skin was very black, and she was made fully aware of that, along with the fact that her nose was too large. The aesthetics of race—and the loathing and self-loathing inflicted on those who vary from accepted standards of beauty—is one of the most pervasive aspects of racism, yet it is not often discussed. The standards have been enforced by blacks as well as by whites.”

Click here to read the full New Yorker article, A Raised Voice, How Nina Simone Turned the Movement Into Music.

Photo: Courtesy New York Public Library

To learn more about Simone, start by reading I Put A Spell On You, The Autobiography of Nina Simone and listening to The Essential Nina Simone

Fernando Ruiz & Heavenly Jenkins need not apply…

 

watermelon1

There are a total of 15 charts.

I chose “Number 15″ to share, but I guarantee that the other 14 will enlighten you about two of the most vital and growing consumer groups –

African-Americans and Latinos

“No. 15 – Employers are more likely to turn away job seekers if they have African-American sounding names.”*

Click here to be enlightened.

 

 

*Source: “15 Charts that Prove We’re Far from Post-Racial,” HuffPost Black Voices, 7/2/14