Feb 9, 2021, 12:00 AM, Posted by Dwayne Proctor
More than 50 years after the civil rights movement we still have a lot to do to reduce discrimination and increase health equity. Dwayne Proctor reflects on the role of stories in the search for solutions.
Author’s note, February 2021: My post below was first published in February 2018. Over the past harrowing year, the issues it explores have become even more urgent, as the murder of George Floyd triggered a racial reckoning during a global pandemic that has hit communities of color hardest. In the midst of it all, systemic racism continues to take a brutal toll. The death of Dr. Susan Moore, who called out the racism she was experiencing as a patient, is just one example. Moore’s death, and those of Clyde Murphy and Shalon Irving, which I wrote about in my blog, are painful reminders of the cost of letting such racism continue. In the words of RWJF Trustee Dr. David Williams: “The first thing we have to do is acknowledge that the everyday racial discrimination embedded in our culture is sickening and killing African-Americans, and make a new commitment to make America a healthier place for all.”
One of my earliest and most vivid childhood memories is watching from my bedroom window as my city burned in the riots that erupted after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination 50 years ago.
The next afternoon, my mother brought me to the playground at my school in Southeast Washington, D.C., which somehow was untouched. As she pushed me in a swing, she asked if I understood what had happened the day before and who Dr. King was.
“Yes,” I said. “He was working to make things better for Negroes like you.”
My mother, whose skin is several tones darker than mine, stared at me in surprise. Somehow, even at 4 years old, I had learned to observe differences in complexion.
That is particularly interesting to me now, as I eventually came to believe that “race” is a social construct.
Of course racism and discrimination exist. They are deeply embedded in America’s history and culture—but so too is the struggle against them.