When I was six, a set of strawberry hair ties foiled my endeavor for independence. My mother had a way of twisting the plastic ornaments at the end of her operation so they sat together like two friends on a bus, neat and obedient at the crown of my head. Despite my assertions, (“I can do it myself!”) I could never align their orbits.
On Thursday, many of you will gather round a dinner table with your loved ones and give gratitude for your friends, family and good fortune. Many of you will think of the meal associated with the inception of this holiday, be filled with warm fuzzy feelings and gloss over the real history surrounding the relationship between those who supposedly attended the first “Thanksgiving” dinner. After eating a second helping of Grandma’s famous pie, few will be concerned about the side of historical oppression or racist colonization offered with this dinner because well, that isn’t so palatable.
“Here is what I would like you to know,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son in his New York Times bestselling book Between the World and Me. “In America, it is tradition to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” Drawing on recent events, Coates shines a bright light on the very tangible obstacles African-Americans face in our country. Unfortunately, this is a reality that has largely been swept under the rug by the rest of America, including its health care providers.It is time that healthcare providers, and in particular primary care providers, confront this reality.
In December of 2014, one week after the non-indictment of Michael Brown, in-Training published an article entitled “A Lack of Care: Why Medical Students Should Focus on Ferguson.” In it, Jennifer Tsai argued that the systemic racism rampant in our law enforcement and criminal justice systems also permeates our health care system, affecting both access to care for black patients and the quality of care black patients receive. Lamenting that the medical community was largely absent from the Ferguson controversy, she cited startling statistics of disparities in health and health care as part of her call to action. In light of the events last week in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, it’s time to revisit this message.
I walk down Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota this evening, and it is packed with people. People grieving, people chatting, people holding one another, people holding banners and people giving speeches. July 7, 2016: a black man named Philandro Castile had been killed barely twenty-four hours ago by a police officer.