We have all watched with frustration, anger and extreme distress at events around our nation over the past six days, following the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. These acts of violence against people of color, especially African Americans, strike at our hearts with pain and sadness. We are at a time in our nation unlike any other. The confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and this outpouring of racial unrest shakes us to our core.
Those of us who are not African American can never appreciate what it is like to be black in America: to be stereotyped, profiled, discriminated against and “guilty until proven innocent.” White citizens, like me, cannot fathom that we would be suspected, or arrested, simply because of the color of our skin. The reality is that this happens in America every day to African, Asian, Latino—American citizens, our fellow humans, neighbors, relatives and friends with a skin color that is not white.
Since late February, all of us—regardless of skin color—have lived in the deep and lengthening shadow of COVID-19 and its threat to our communities: the fear of being an essential worker who must go to a job during the pandemic to feed their families, the rising unemployment disproportionately affecting low wage earners and people of color, and a two-months-long-and-lengthening stay-at-home order.
We should not be surprised that this racially motivated violence, in the midst of the pandemic, has erupted in civil unrest—protests and riots. There is a palpable tension between protestors wanting the evidence of social injustice to be addressed, and the authorities in some of our major cities wanting to manage the civil unrest.
What can we individually do?
Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Diverse Workforce Statement says that “…each employee shares responsibility for creating and maintaining an environment of mutual respect and support.” But in the past few weeks, that statement has taken on an entirely new meaning and urgency, and we need to go a number of steps further: Listen to our colleagues and neighbors who want to discuss why this matters. Try to imagine walking in their shoes for just a day. And work to understand why they are angry, why they are afraid for the lives of young black men and how we can ensure mutual respect in our community.
One privilege of being white in America is freedom from racial discrimination. We already notice the skin color of everyone we meet—now we must notice what difference that skin color makes. Take a stand against injustice. Take risks. It is scary, it is difficult and it may bring up feelings of our own inadequacy. But, we are in health care, and that is what we do—we take risks, we undertake caring for any human who is in need of care and we strive for wellness in our community. At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, we will ensure the value of diversity is upheld in everything that we do for our employees, patients, families, visitors, customers, the broader community and all who contribute to the achievement of our mission.
These are uncommon times, and ultimately taking those stands and those risks is the only healthy and moral human thing to do.
“From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed no religion is more important than the human being.” - James Baldwin