Early in July the city of Memphis unanimously passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. In 1866 Memphis was the site of a massacre where dozens of black people were raped and killed by white terrorists and in 1968 it was where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, thus drawing a line from the past to the present at a time when coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black residents. Over 50 cities have passed similar resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis, these cities are in urban centers, as well in in rural areas, with various sizes and demographics, such as a cluster of small towns in Connecticut, and contain surprises such as the Douglas County Board of Health in Nebraska.
In June an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine addressed the health effects of
being subjected to racism and discrimination and declared that they can lead to
brain disease, “accelerate aging and impede vascular and renal function” thus
drawing attention to the stresses and difficulties affecting African Americans
and other minority populations. The resolutions are not binding, yet their
impetus being inspired by the research of scientific journals nevertheless make
them one step on our journey to redress the wrongs of racism.
The US has the highest per capita prison rate and the highest prison population in the world. The US represents 5% of the world’s population but 25% of those incarcerated worldwide. Russia and Ukraine follow. These are meaningful figures in light of the protests asking for police reform. And what is even more meaningful are the facts of incarceration from the NAACP showing how incarceration disproportionately affects people of color. Here is a sample:
- African Americans are incarcerated at 5
times the rate of whites.
- African Americans and Hispanics which
comprise 32% of the population comprise 56% of incarcerated people.
- If they were incarcerated at the same
rate as whites prison population would decline by almost 40%.
- While African Americans and whites use
drugs at about the same rates, imprisonment of African Americans for drug
charges is about 6 times that of whites.
Those facts speak for systemic racism, they speak
for an overhaul of not only our police but the entire criminal justice system.
Surely you remember what happened recently in Central Park? Christian Cooper, a black man was bird watching in a remote region of the park early one morning and encountered a white young woman with a dog who was unleashed in a section where dogs are particularly to be leached. He mentioned that to her, they had words and he took a video. She replied by calling 911 saying “An African American man is threatening my life.” Fortunately his sister was there and took a video of the incident thus sparing him arrest. The video of the incident including her call went viral and Amy Cooper (no relation) ended up losing her job at a big Manhattan financial firm and the organization through which she had adopted her dog took him back. The NYT interviewed Christian Cooper a couple of days afterwards and his reaction is so noteworthy, it merits mention.
“I’m not excusing the racism. But I don’t know if
her life needed to be torn apart,” he said. And then he added, “If this painful
process…helps to correct, or takes us a step further towards addressing the
underlying racial, horrible assumptions that we African –Americans have to deal
with, and have dealt with for centuries, that this woman tapped into, then it’s
worth it.” He also added. “Sadly it had
to come at her expense.”
Looks like we can consider ourselves inspired by
compassion and wisdom!
Given the overt and implied racism of the recent onslaught of tweets and accusations from Trump and his devotees and given the ones that are still to come, we can no longer remain silent. We must stand up for our own diversity. I shun politics in these pieces, but this is not about politics, it is about values. We have it seems, made the next election a referendum on Trump. But in this case it is not nor should it be about him. It is about the values he represents, values that have vibrated with many who felt overrun by people of color and by the presence of religions other than Christianity. This is not about ideologies, it is not about the rationalizations some may give, it is not about the arguments the more articulate on each side come up with. It is about finishing the agenda of the civil rights movements. It is about racism and immigration. It is about all those, who are not yet able to put an individual’s humanity ahead of color, religion, sexual orientation or country of origin. It is about what does and will make us into better human beings, what will help us grow, reach out, serve others as individuals and as a nation. Those who seek entry into the US illegally seek conditions other than poverty or death. Is seeking survival or increasing your safety really a choice? It’s not a question of open borders. There are alternatives. But it is a moral question. To those who are so critical of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, I say, what kind of a choice is it when you have no choice but to leave all that you know? I am an immigrant. I know what leaving everything behind feels like. Way back all those years ago that is why people like our family sought to immigrate to the US. Then the US stood for the kind of country that helped people, the kind of country that was inclusive and accepting of diversity (even if at times reluctantly), the kind of country one wanted to be part of. Those are values worth standing up for and our voices must be loud and clear. By whatever means we choose, whatever means are available, let us march, write letters, speak to friends as well as foes, protest peacefully, post useful information, repost important thoughts… Even more important let us vote and make sure everyone we know does as well—because we can no longer remain silent. We must stand up for our own diversity.