Med School Insiders (MSI) supports the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movement.
To those who would respond, “What about ‘All Lives Matter’?” Yes, there is no doubt all lives matter. No human should be unjustifiably killed. However, the Black community is the one that is being and has been targeted. They need our support and our voices. To use a common comparison going around social media, firetrucks do not hose down all houses; they only hose down the house that is on fire because that house is the one in danger.
At Med School Insiders, we like to promote learning and sharing of information. Here are some facts straight from the NAACP:
*Note: The term “African-American”, as opposed to black, is used on the official NAACP website.*
African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.
The imprisonment rates for African-American women are twice that of white women.
Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.
If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison, and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.
African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites.
A criminal record can reduce the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent. The negative impact of a criminal record is twice as large for African American applicants.
In 2012 alone, the United States spent nearly $81 billion on corrections.
Spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of spending on Pre‐K‐12 public education in the last thirty years.
A recent study in 2019 also showed that police brutality is a lead cause of death among young non-white men.
To understand how these numbers came to be, let’s take a dive into the BLM movement going all the way back to the roots.
Black People in America: A History of “Othering”
Globally, there has been a trend of either purposeful or neglectful “othering”, and it’s often been coupled with an attempt of justification to absolve those in power. “Othering” is a term used to describe separating people based on their differences. It’s when a person separates “us” (the like) from “them” (the unlike). This puts a gap between the two groups that can manifest in intense and dangerous ways.
Most Americans are immigrants in some way, shape, or form. With the exception of Native Americans and indigenous people, every current American citizen is or is descended from someone who came to this country as an outsider. Many were doing so to escape persecution and seek out new opportunities in this country— that is, except for African-Americans who are descendants of slaves. America has achieved its agricultural and economic prosperity on the backs of free slave labor, and this is the root of the stark and pervasive thread of racism that runs through the entire country. Black citizens have been treated as lesser than since they first set foot on American soil, yet few acknowledge this.
Long after the 13th and 14th Amendments, racism continued to dominate the fates of black people. Most areas lacked a black hospital, white physicians wouldn’t treat blacks, and black people were forced to live under worse conditions than their white counterparts. One of the most common and clever ways that the government oppressed black people was through redlining. These are the specifics of redlining in Chicago, but the phenomenon was widespread across the nation. After the Supreme Court deemed Chicago’s previous method of blatantly rejecting black residents of mortgages illegal, officials in Chicago were able to confine and cripple black people through the use of biopower and structural violence. They sectioned neighborhoods in Chicago based on how “dangerous” or “stable” they were; then, based on those assessments, mortgages were determined. The areas which were mostly black were labeled as high-risk and were unable to receive mortgages. This kept them poor and without opportunities. For example, when there was a hospital built, it was built in the white part of town, far out of reach of blacks and other minorities. And as the world shifted toward neoliberalist thinking, the government somewhat absolved themselves and trusted the “free market” to evenly distribute goods. But marginalized people had little to no means by which they could enter this free market; there were already policies and institutions in place to ensure that. Even worse, the rise of neoliberalism overshadowed action towards primary health care movements, which were put on the shelf for a later date. In all, the country put the burden on black people to find their way out of a hole made specifically for them. Even to this today, only modest acts of reparation have been made.
While black people are equal citizens on paper, the systemic racism and oppression that has been baked into America have had horrific effects, including higher rates of poverty and charges for petty crimes like drugs.
The phenomenon of societal structures, formal and informal, stealing opportunities from people is called “structural violence”, a term attributed to Johan Galtung, but recently brought back to light largely by Dr. Paul Farmer of Harvard Medical School. The theory draws attention to the way in which societal institutions restrict some people’s agency and make it harder, or even impossible, to receive the opportunities and healthcare that others do. Structural violence can apply to the rules of an organization, the rules of the states and legal system, or any other entity that has an effect on the goods, services, and opportunities presented to the public. Though these structures seem peaceful in their day to day activity, they can have insidious effects. This is why the word “violence” is used in the name – to highlight the severity of the effects.
The present is not separate from the past, and one cannot impose new policies and expect everything to fall into place. The health disparities and structural violence we see now have been centuries in the making, and it will not go away so easily. Another important lesson is how thoughts and motives can infiltrate minds, institutions, and society. Neoliberalism, colonization, or any theory supported just enough can roll down a hill like a snowball, gaining power until it dominates the world. But the most hopeful lesson is that by understanding how things came to be, and by learning from past events, we are better informed to address these issues today and fight for true health equity.
The Official Black Lives Matter Movement
Though racism has continued in American throughout the centuries, an incident in 2013 – not unlike that which just happened the other week. In February of 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in Florida by George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman avoided arrest at first by claiming self-defense, but was eventually brought to court and tried for second-degree murder and manslaughter. In July 2013, Zimmerman was acquitted of these charges and walked free. This unnecessary killing and saddening acquittal incited Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi to create Black Lives Matter, a “Black-centered political will and movement building project”. The project grew to be worldwide and now includes over 40 chapters.
Though BLM continually works for equal rights and treatments, their causes and action often flare in response to incidents such as the 2014 killing of Michael Brown or the most recent killing of George Floyd.
Although Black Lives Matter is a common slogan and hashtag, it’s important to recognize that this is the name of an official organization and movement which does not necessarily include all radical liberalists. Just because there is a protest on TV does not necessarily mean it’s BLM sanctioned. In fact, there are various groups at play in the rallies, protests, and riots we are witnessing.
The Uproaring 2020s
The recent riots and resurgence of protests were largely catalyzed by the murder of an innocent black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His name, along with others from this year, including Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and Ahmaud Arbery, has become a cornerstone of the riot as a strong example of police brutality and racism. But we should remember that this is not the year BLM started. BLM was started in 2013 after the killing of Michael Brown. This is not the first fight against racism. That fight has been ongoing for centuries and helped lay the foundations of these problems.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes— “who watches the watchmen”? While Black Americans have been facing racism and prejudice since America’s foundation, the BLM movement has been galvanized by a specific consequence of racism— police brutality. Black Americans are scared for their lives because the law enforcement officers who have sworn to protect them have murdered members of their community instead. The BLM movement now is primarily focused on decreasing instances of police brutality and reckless oversight of our law enforcement officers.
The systemic racism in our country dates back to before our country was founded. It has thus poisoned the soil from which America has grown. What we are seeing, is not only a response to innocent black lives lost recently but to years of oppression and degradation. This fight is incredibly important and it mirrors the intensity and drive of the Civil Rights movement. Hopefully, this will end in a peaceful and more just system. But there is always more to work on.
How To Be An Effective Advocate
Sometimes, just because our heart is in the right place, doesn’t necessarily we’re doing what’s most effective. For example, many black people spoke out on social media against #blackouttuesday. They claimed it didn’t do much to actually help them. They didn’t want empathizers to just post a black square to their Instagrams – they wanted action. While many people thought they were helping to draw attention to an issue or amplify black voices, in reality, the participants of #blackouttuesday were not helping as much as they thought. Several people on social media claimed that the hashtag mostly just gave an excuse for white people to appear as advocates for change without actually making any effort. Luckily, Campaign Zero has collected and analyzed a tremendous amount of data on police and police brutality. Here is what they found:
Recognizing There is a Problem
The first step in fixing systematic racism in the country is to recognize it for what it is and to understand how it affects your local circles. Posting about the BLM hashtag and being an ally on social media is useful only if you feel that you are making the same change and using your voice within smaller communities as well. Have you benefited from racism via cultural appropriation, not having to deal with implicit biases, and being born into certain circumstances? Take the time to educate yourself on the lives of Black and other POC minorities with any of these resources (and more):
- An Anti-Racist Reading List by author and historian Ibram X Kendi
- A Summer Reading List on BLM-related books
- Books, Movies, and Podcasts on racism by Katie Couric
- Harper’s Bazaar’s 10 documentaries about Black History
- The New York Times’ “A Weekend of Pain and Protest” podcast that details the reason why people are protesting and how that is unfolding
The Center for Racial Justice’s Black History Month Resource Guide, which talks about how to best teach and learn about black history in school curriculums.
There is a Problem. How Do We Fix It?
While the BLM movement and nationwide protests have shed light on a problem, we also have to come up with data-driven ways to effectively fix and undo centuries of racism that are entrenched in American culture, law, and politics. The Campaign Zero project has proposed a ten-fold path to limit police interventions and police brutality through research-backed solutions. These include obvious steps such as restricting police use of force and demilitarizing and decreasing military weapons in the police force. But they also propose tech-savvy ways of combating police violence; for example, using behavioral predictive algorithms to estimate which police officers are at risk for undue violence. These types of algorithms are used to predict recidivism rates among criminals— why not also use them to police law enforcement agents? Similarly, while body cameras have not been shown to be an effective way of reduce unnecessary violent crime among the police force, body cameras do provide definitive proof of injustice— George Floyd’s murder gained so much traction because of the horrifying video that circulated around of his death, and gave concrete evidence of wrongdoings in the force.
Others have been arguing that the police are ineffective at preventing crime, especially for impoverished and at-risk citizens like those that suffer from mental illnesses. Trained non-profits, community volunteers, and social workers have been shown to be effective in reducing violent crime rates if integrated properly into communities. Moreover, the federal government is provably effective in reducing crime rates in areas if they choose to intervene instead of relying on local police. Perhaps the most effective way of fixing racism is to vote for elected officials who can push large-scale change out into the country.
How to Advocate
There are many ways to advocate, and you should choose what feels right for you. If you don’t feel safe going to a rally and would rather discuss the matter online, do that!
There are many different ways to support a cause, including fighting against racial inequality.
- Donation – There are almost always organized groups fight for a cause, and this is true of the racial inequality movement today. Aside from the BLM group, there is an incredible number of bail fundings that are being used to help arrested protestors post bail. There are other organizations that are working to clean up the streets after rallies or provide aid to protestors. Search around a bit, and find where you’d like to donate.
- Educate – Don’t assume everyone knows what you know! And for that matter, don’t assume you know everything someone else does. In my experience, many of the people who are uncomfortable with the protests are unfamiliar with how deeply rooted racism is and how it works against a black person their entire lives. Consider explaining your point of view and perspective or share the information you learned from here! Also on the point of education, don’t forget there’s always more to learn. Especially if you are an ally and have not experienced racism for yourself, it’s a good exercise to understand what has happened in the country and what is happening. There are many suggestions circulating about Netflix shows to watch or books to read that are geared towards education on racial inequality and checking white privilege. Here is a guide that I found to be pretty comprehensive.
- Rally – Ah yes, the rallies, protests, marches, etc. There have been a lot of these going on lately, and they’re quite powerful. However, as I’m sure many of you know, some protests have been prone to looting and mob violence. First, there is the issue of groups other than those supporting the racial equality movement, causing riots. For example, white supremacy groups have been identified in some of the looters and instigators of riots. Second, even without additional groups, there have been several instances where police have made advances on peaceful protestors. They’ve tear-gassed them, shot them with rubber bullets, and even trapped them so they couldn’t escape. Being a part of something this huge, and having massive crowds united by a common goal is very powerful. However, please be careful if you are going to consider this form of advocacy.
- Reach out to your local government and representatives – This is, of course, a great way to make change happen! Politics can be difficult to engage in, especially in these uncertain political climates, but your local representatives are there to represent you. When enough people call or write in their opinions, they’re forced to listen to you. Even if you don’t get a response or think you’ve made much of a difference, you have become one of many names on a list of people moving toward change.
- Social Media – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be a great way to connect and share information. However, just be careful of what you’re sharing and consider unintended consequences. Just as I was talking about with #blackouttuesday, the message trying to be sent was not the message that was received.
While there is no doubt that black lives do, in fact, matter or that racial disparities run deep in America, I urge you to be careful and safe in your advocacy. Where you can, try to take time to educate others who may not know about this history or those who cannot empathize with the trauma of minorities. Lastly, if you find yourself exhausted with all of the news, events, social media, etc. take time to detach and care for yourself. Then rejoin the fight. All of this is overwhelming and some aspects are complicated. Do your best to stand up for what you believe in, but don’t set unrealistic expectations of yourself. These battles are won together.