I was invited this week to supervise therapists-in-training from a school I haven’t served before.
The man extending the invitation — a male in his late 60s — texted me, wondering if I’d “be ok teaching and working with a number of Black students?”
I was immediately horrified; I felt sick.
“Wait what?” was my reply.
I picked up the phone; this was no conversation to be had via text messaging.
I did my best to remain calm and respectful, while also direct and clear.
The whole thing was chalked up to a “generational gap, no ill-intent.”
That statement is indicative of a much larger systemic problem.
I think some in our country have decided it is actually not a problem or have grown tired of talking about it, if it is.
But we didn’t get here over night, and we aren’t going to claw our way out of the pit we’ve dug for ourselves that quickly either.
We cannot allow ourselves to become desensitized to the systemic race crisis we are living in, nor can we allow the politicization of the issue to prevent us from engaging it.
Because this is not a political issue. It is not a conservative/liberal issue. It is not an issue reserved only for those in the so-called ivory tower to write about or those in urban centers to fight about.
This is a moral issue, yes. A religious one, yes.
But first, racism is a public health issue.
Hate, inequity, discrimination, and the impact of such on the physical health of minorities is critical.
Several studies suggest that experiences of racism or discrimination raise the risk of depression, cardiovascular disease, hypertension — more than 40% of Black adults have high blood pressure — and even death, not to mention the equally-important emotional and psychological health of minority persons, which cannot be understated or over-emphasized.
So prevalent is this problem that, into the midst of the racial unrest in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and what those deaths mean, among the hundreds of others like it across the nation, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Psychological Association all designated racism, discrimination, and racial- and ethnic-inequity as a public health concern, and have issued policy statements on how experiencing racism and discrimination plays an impacting role in raising the risk of certain chronic health conditions in the black community.
Just this week, Sacramento County, California, through its Board of Supervisors, became the latest local government to add its name to the growing list of institutions, states, and municipalities that have declared racism a public health crisis.
“Sacramento is one of the nation’s most diverse communities, and as such, all its citizens should have the opportunity to live their lives free from systemic racism,” said Board Chair, Phil Serna. “Research has demonstrated that racism adversely impacts the physical and mental health of people of color. The resolution we passed acknowledges Sacramento County’s commitment to face this crisis head-on through fair and just governance and service delivery.”
Replace Sacramento with Owensboro, and ponder that a moment.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors’ decision comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to strike a uniquely heavy blow to people of color. Black, Hispanic and Native American people infected with Covid-19 are, according to recent data from the CDC, about four times more likely to be hospitalized than others.
According to one news outlet, Sacramento now joins a handful of states — including Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin — and local governments — such as Franklin County, Ohio — that have made similar declarations.
“What we’re hoping will happen is that by thinking of this through a public health lens, it will help people recognize that racism actually hurts people — it impacts their health in a negative way,” says Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
And what hurts some of us, hurts all of us.
The resolution committed to ensure the consistent collection, analysis and reporting of demographic, socioeconomic and public health data to measure progress toward eliminating racial inequities; to design, develop and deploy community-based alternatives to prevent trauma and eliminate harm associated with racial inequity; and advocate for local, state and federal policies that improve health and wellness in communities of color and support legislation that advances racial equity.
Additionally, the resolution established the intent of the Board to create, by a separate resolution, a “Sacramento County Racial Equity Policy Cabinet,” that would issue reports to the Board and be responsible for promoting coordination, cooperation and collaboration across County departments and the community to promote racial equity.
There is frequent talk in the circles of leadership in our community about making Owensboro better for families, for children, for business development, for economic impact and growth, for healthcare innovation, for education.
We’ve done that through redeveloping downtown, expanding the commercial aspects of the 54 corridor, and by bringing sports and music events to the city, among other things.
But we failed to pass a non-discrimination ordinance on the grounds that some people think they read the Bible better than others, a Bible that condones discrimination of those who are different, apparently.
But that ordinance isn’t dead. It’s sleeping, gaining the rest it needs to come back to the table sure of itself, stronger than before, and larger than life.
I call upon our city and county commissioners — and all those elected — to declare publicly that discrimination, inequity, and exclusion of any kind is a moral failure and that racism, in particular, is a public health crisis, and deserves the same attention as COVID-19.
My voice alone won’t do much. But with yours, consider the impact!
Dr. Jonathan Eric Carroll, KLPC, NCPC, NCCE, is a state-licensed mental health professional, is an ACPE Psychotherapist, and is the Founder of The Clinic @ The Montgomery in downtown Owensboro. Dr. Carroll serves as the Grief Therapist for six funeral homes in the region. He also co-created and cohosts “You’ll Die Trying,” a podcast available everywhere. Visit www.themontgomeryclinic.com.