Everyone is called upon for answers today. How are we physicians to respond to the recent deaths of African Americans at the hands of police and to the protests against police violence? We are deeply saddened and outraged by the senseless killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. These are but three recent examples from a centuries long, shameful list of brutal acts.
As healers, we must grapple with the ways in which white supremacy and white privilege have shaped American life. Though painful, recent traumas represent an opportunity for change. It is incumbent upon us to translate generations of suffering into progress. Each of us has a responsibility to act.
In 1903 W.E.B. Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk. In it, he discussed the “Color Line” or segregation, calling it the problem of the 20th century. As we witness protests throughout our country and we review the senseless murders, disproportionate rates of incarceration of black people, and inequitable access to the “American dream,” it is apparent that the color line is alive in the 21st century.
Unfettered capitalism and years of systemic racism have resulted in rampant wealth disparities – just one of the markers of a just society. Research shows that white Americans tend to underestimate the wealth gap. In fact, data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that black Americans’ wealth is only 9% that of whites, and this gap continues to widen. Furthermore, the lowest 25% of black families have no or negative wealth, whereas only 10% of white families experience this level of poverty. This didn’t happen by accident. Poverty is a form of violence especially when it follows our racist policies that have dogged people through our lifetimes. This must change. We must confront the economic and social disparities that plague our nation.
What are doctors to do? Those of us who are white must think critically of the advantages that white skin has conferred, listen to our colleagues of color, and take action to make amends. Systemic racism, like gun violence, is “our lane” and we must do better.
We must educate ourselves and address any implicit biases we may hold. Through honest introspection and genuine commitment to change, doctors are in a unique position to make a difference in the lives of our patients, and in society as a whole.
We, the Executive Committee of Physicians for the Prevention of Gun Violence support the demands of the protestors in the streets who are crying out for justice. They are asking us to come alive, to find our voices, to create a just America with a strong public health undergirding.
As a physician’s organization that advocates for the prevention of gun violence, we understand that gun violence cannot be separated from co-occurring societal ills, namely systemic racism. We hope that by writing this we will stimulate introspection, dialog, and action resulting in positive change.
We encourage you to deepen your commitment to creating a just society through education and through supporting organizations engaged in this work. We have listed just few of these below (there are many more). Additionally, it is critical that we vote for political candidates who will fight to eradicate structural racism in America.
NAACP Poor Peoples Campaign
Black Psychiatrists of America
American Public Health Association – Racism and Health
“75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice” by Corinne Shutack
Together we can make this country a better place to live. We must. Too many lives are at stake.
Executive Committee of Physicians for the Prevention of Gun Violence