Jessica Jones and José Rodriguez: The only thing that matters now is action


Originally published in the Salt Lake Tribune on June 30, 2020.

“It sucks to be Black!” exclaimed a non-minority epidemiologist colleague to our class of graduate students.

Why would someone think that is ever appropriate to say about anyone, but especially in a professional setting? We are tired of the off-color comments. We are tired of seeing statements from organizations about being against racism. We are tired of vilification of peaceful protesters, and tired of having to be the police for diversity. But, more than anything, we are tired of the tolerance of wrong things.

Everyone is dealing with the stress of the pandemic: health scares, more people at home, physical separation, layoffs, furloughs, decreased compensation, etc. Unfortunately, the stress for people of color is even greater.

The Civil Rights Movement in the mid-1900s got rid of overt segregation, but the racial protests over the past 50 years indicate that racism is not just past history. In our recent experience, minority medical staff have been referred to as a “posse” and banned from taking lunch breaks together. A Black nurse gets singled out by her supervisor for her braided hair style. A Black physician gets told she has no maternity benefits after working as faculty with the organization for over 12 years.

However, the most obvious issue currently is the universal tolerance of the frequent, brutal murders of unarmed Black men and women by police. We can no longer tolerate this, and we should be disgusted with ourselves for tolerating such inhuman behavior for so long.

Unfortunately, that disgust is useless. The only thing that matters now is immediate, deliberate and obvious action by leaders in political and economic power to undo and counteract the effects of systemic racism. The only way to do that is through anti-racist action.

Anti-racist actions mean eliminating situations where a home owners association offers opportunity for improvement to some, but ignores their clients of color. It means teaching law enforcement to be anti-racist, because being “non-discriminatory” is what has permitted inequitable treatment of Black people. It means educating ourselves on becoming anti-racist, and it means changing conversations at the water cooler and the dinner table. Essentially, it requires a “conversion” of sorts.

So, to move forward we need to do four things:

Honor and Validate: Honor and validate the pain that we all feel over the anti-Black violence that is still tolerated by our society.

Show: Show solidarity with the victims, protest peacefully, etc.

Change: Make acts of solidarity powerful by changing our institutions and rooting out any system that can permit racism. If you see something, say something.

Together, these actions can take us towards ending anti-Black systemic racism and move us towards equity. If we are united, then positive change will happen.

Jessica L. Jones, M.D., MSPH, is an associate professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.

José E. Rodríguez, M.D., FAAFP, is associate vice president for Health Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, a professor of family and preventive medicine and associate medical director at the University of Utah Redwood Health Center.

The opinions expressed here are the authors’, and may not reflect the opinions of their employer.