Tim Wise can say, without fear of contradiction, that we’re now in the largest racial justice uprising in the history of the United States. The fact that this has happened in the middle of a pandemic not only makes it a public health crisis, but a social justice issue as well.
Wise, one of the most prominent anti-racist writers and educators in the United States, was the featured speaker for the University’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Committee’s virtual Lunch and Learn event Sept. 23 titled “Interest Conversion in a Time of Pandemic and Police Brutality: How COVID and Growing Authoritarianism Provide an Opening for Solidarity.”
During his lecture, he stressed the importance of both public health and social justice moving forward, even more so now given the current circumstances, and offered some suggestions for the Salus community as healthcare educators and providers.
Between 8,000 and 11,000 protests and demonstrations focusing on issues of police brutality and misconduct and racial injustice have occurred around the country since late May. “But even lots of folks who are not going to demonstrations or protests are asking really important questions, some of those for the first time,” he said.
Even though people are moving toward a greater level of engagement, Wise believes there remains some real barriers to getting to the next level.
“We have this outpouring of anger and hostility toward racism, which is healthy. We have an outpouring of empathy toward those who were marginalized and affected by racism, which is also fantastic,” said Wise.
Obstacles to getting from A to B include: a deep denial, particularly among white people, about the problem of racism; colorblind formalism, where people acknowledge that there is racism but that the answer is to not notice or talk about color; and the tendency of society to pathologize communities of color and the people who live in them.
Amidst these obstacles, Wise believes colorblind formalism directly relates to the Salus community and the delivery of healthcare services.
“When you think about delivery of healthcare, it doesn’t matter what kind of care. If we are being colorblind in the provision of that care, we are not going to be treating the patients as the people they actually are,” he said. “We’ll be treating them only as abstractions, as individuals abstracted from their social context.”
Part of the experience Black and brown people have had in healthcare delivery has been one that has not been fully built or developed because they see an institution as often looking down on them and viewing them in negative ways.
In addition to not feeling like they have received equitable care, they have also not solidified trust in the clinicians providing that care. “Unless we are conscious of the things that may be causing that mistrust — which sometimes are about identity and about the way in which we relate to one another — then we can’t get over that hump if we want to actually do a good job,” he said.
According to Wise, healthcare providers have to be tuned in to what the patient may feel about the institution. Otherwise, the patient is not going to be able to open up and there won’t be a healthy connection between the clinician and the person being cared for, which would make the provision of care unequal and not as high quality.
The good news, he said, is that the country is in a moment now where it has the opportunity to change the narrative and challenge the core ideology that currently exists.
“We have to challenge the mentality of racial inequity, racial resentment, and white supremacy. We have to challenge the denial, challenge the notion of colorblindness, challenge the pathologizing of the communities of color, challenge the myth of meritocracy, which ultimately leaves all of us vulnerable in a society of profound inequality of opportunity. Not just for Black and brown folks but for millions of white folks as well.”
Those unable to attend the event who would like to view the recording can contact the DEI committee for instructions.