This time is like no other.
When we are really ill, even dying, an opportunity for deeper healing arises.
The same is true of our society.
Our Society has been Sick
The riots and protests this past week are like a fever. They’re showing us that our society has been sick—it has an infection, and it needs attention. The illness has been endemic in our culture for eons, and now smartphones are making it impossible for our society to ignore.
Facing our current condition is scary and hard, and the outcome is uncertain, just like in any serious illness. And yet we can use this breakdown as a chance to rise up. I see the gift in these very hard times as an opportunity to choose to heal.
As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I am not comfortable talking about this. I am white. I have seen the injustice, felt the pain, read the history, and still felt relatively powerless. Being white felt like being part of the problem—what is my right to speak about race?
And what about my profession? As a physician, I truly love caring and connecting with all my patients, though we may look, eat, pray, and vote differently.
I now see that because I am white, I need to speak about race. And because I am a doctor, I need to acknowledge racism. Thank you to the brave souls who have been speaking out and helping to show me the way, including writer Ijeoma Oluo and basketball player Kyle Korver.
Racism is not just about how we individually feel toward people who are different from us. That’s part of it, for sure, but many of us are truly open and caring toward all the people in our lives.
What we need to speak to is the more subtle, insidious illness: institutionalized racism.
This kind of racism is so ingrained that we are unconscious of it and how it affects our behavior. Plus, the way our systems are organized perpetuates this disease. We’ve all seen it play out in the police forces, in our education system, in our politics, business, and medicine. It’s in all of us.
The question is: How do we eradicate it?
Physicians are more likely to disregard the experiences of black- and brown-skinned people, discounting his symptom of a heart attack or her need for more support in labor.
A well-meaning white female OB-GYN in 2020 is still unable to hear her black patient because of racism’s institutions of habit. This is the pathogen we need to destroy by bringing it out into the air and the light.
And it’s not about class—it’s about race.
It’s about taking responsibility for what is—where we can, when we can. Healing ourselves starts with acknowledging our fear. Then we can begin to see where racism lives and how we can change its course. It’s not about white guilt. That’s a disempowering idea, and it just causes paralysis that serves no one.
In our health, commitment to consistent small changes can move mountains.
Social change happens the same way. It’s about the small things: Me increasing my awareness of how I can do better in my practice to be more inclusive. Me asking our local high school what its curriculum is on racism. Me continuing to learn. Me being willing to be uncomfortable and have conversations like this, even if it means you may not like me anymore.
And as with any big shift you want to enact in your life, these two things are worth keeping in mind:
- Awareness comes first.
- Education = Transformation
If you want to join me on this journey, and I hope you do, I’ve included some resources I’ve found helpful at the end of this article.
This truly is a time like no other
All of it—the pandemic, the economic uncertainty, the social unrest—is making us painfully aware of the limitations of many of our belief systems and institutions.
If you’ve made it this far in this article, thank you. I know this topic can be difficult to think about, even triggering for some. I understand that it can feel confusing. It is for me, too—in this email, I’m attempting to find my path.
Just one more thing: you may wonder if I’m ignoring all of the other inequalities in our culture.
When the body’s immune system finally notices a chronic infection and begins to fight it off, that’s all it’s focused on. Just like that, we need to stay focused on what is up now. Today—this week, this lifetime—we all need to turn our attention to racism: look at it, talk about it, release its toxic presence so we can find the path back to better health. And as in any healing process, when you really go in and do deep work on one core issue, you support easier healing on other levels too.
Compassion and love for self and others is the balm for all ills. Let it rise in us.
This is the time for us to recognize that racism isn’t other people’s problem—it’s in all of us. We need to have patience and tolerance for each other, for ourselves, because at times we’ll get it wrong. We need to be willing to be uncomfortable with our differences, have the conversation, and get real.
So we can heal.
Dr. Jenny Tufenkian
I’m currently reading So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. It’s a fantastic, eye-opening book.
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, is a powerful, beautiful novel about intergenerational internalized racism. I read it last Christmas, and it left me in awe. What Morrison can convey in one sentence will change your heart forever.
These articles by WNBA and NBA players Natasha Cloud and Kyle Korver are inspiring:
There’s great anti-racism resources in this Google doc
Medicine and Racism
From Doctorsinamerica.org: http://www.drsforamerica.org/blog/healing-america-structural-racism-and-racially-motivated-murder-must-end
African American Women and Childbirth
Having had my own experiences of birth trauma, this topic hits a deep chord with me. These articles clearly lay out how structural racism is embedded in medicine and the impact on black women and their babies, regardless of socioeconomic status.
This piece has resources on what to read, what to say on social media, and where to shop to support BBIPOC (Black, Brown, Indigenous, People of Color):