January 18, 2021 is a National Holiday set aside each year to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., an amazing man whose contribution to our history as a nation is unsurpassed in modern times. This past year has been dominated by huge crises in health care and how our society treats Black Americans. In fact, these two sets of issues often connect. This seems to be a good moment to reflect on why these two things continue to be critical now and will continue to be important going forward.
Let’s face it, 2020 was a traumatic year, and it is still kicking and screaming into 2021. We were blindsided by the onset of the Coronavirus early in 2020, which has become the COVID-19 Pandemic scourge with its unfolding variants, attacking people around the world in waves. In the United States, this health crisis has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. According to the CDC, this was caused by several factors, including outright discrimination, poor access to quality care, service jobs frequently held by people of color that may put them at greater risk, their housing conditions which may be more crowded, and more.
In June 2020, the shocking death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, at the hands of police led to protests, shock, violence, and increased awareness of how Black people are routinely treated in our predominantly white society. The movement #BlackLivesMatter emerged. George Floyd was the first of several highly publicized deaths under outrageous circumstances, but sadly not the only one. According to data tracked by the Washington Post, “...Black Americans account for less than 13% of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed at a disproportionate rate.” This is not a simple problem. It is a systemic problem in our society. Perhaps one good thing that came out of the summer of 2020 was an increased awareness of something pervasive, cultural, and deep. It is not isolated to only police interactions, nor does it exist in all police interactions with Black Americans. Some White Americans are beginning to grasp the concept bit by bit. Racism and discrimination are untenable at any point, but awareness and sensitivity are important first steps. In my field, racism towards Black patients, for example, regardless of their socioeconomic level, is widespread and is now finally being discussed. This should be addressed and eradicated as part of medical school education, but more likely, it is subtly perpetuated subconsciously from one generation of medical educators to the next.
I think about my internship in an inner-city hospital with a significant uninsured Black patient population, and I know I saw it frequently. It made me angry. What we do with that, how we as a White society learn from it and change how we think about others and change how we perpetuate trauma-inducing behaviors that we may not even know we do, will have the biggest impact on our society as a whole going forward across all races and on ourselves. As someone who works with trauma, this would be a joyful thing. MLK would be pleased. But it will take a lot of work. We are all worth it. This year, 2021, should be about Moving Forward.
Welcome to 2021. Be safe and healthy in the spirit of moving forward...Lee
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