Center for Health Progress provides Waiting for Health Equity training to start conversations about creating a more equitable health care system and the barriers that must be destroyed to get there. There can be no health equity in America without first achieving racial equity, so racism features prominently in every discussion. I often find myself leading this training for white audiences, so the conversations are intended to prompt commitments from white participants to do their part in dismantling white supremacy.
Once participants learn how racism works at an institutional level, we tend to get commitments such as having difficult conversations about racism, asking their human resource staff about ways to make hiring practices more equitable, or engaging the political process to hold elected officials accountable. All of these commitments are a positive step in the right direction, no doubt, but just a step nonetheless.
Last week, I had the honor of presenting to a group of majority Latinx and black advocates in Downtown Denver. An otherwise routine training became powerful because the dynamic of the room shifted from me training them on the basics of health equity to a genuine exchange of lived experience, trauma, and pride. To exchange among peers; being truly heard, truly seen, raised an important but oft-ignored question of what role people of color play in their own liberation. For the first time, I was able to ask participants how they will commit to finding and standing in their power to achieve racial equity. In a world where flesh-colored band-aids are meant to match white skin, despite the vast majority of humans having brown skin, defining ourselves for ourselves without apology is a necessary antidote to the hostility and unresponsiveness most people of color experience in society.
Defining ourselves for ourselves. The commitments from people of color to overcome racism seem much more consequential and urgent than those coming from white people – understandably so. But even the conversations that lead up to these commitments are different. While the
majority Latinx and black group spoke of repercussions and the frustration of having to fight for equal treatment in a country their ancestors literally built, many of the conversations with white participants remained impersonal and driven by vague intuitions of “the system isn’t fair, and I feel bad about it.” No repercussions, little urgency.
Our health care system (and all other institutions) can never become truly inclusive and confirming of humanity without a radical change of the people and culture within these systems, and a deep interrogation of the legitimacy of “whiteness” itself, not just white supremacy. This, at once, feels straightforward and impossible, considering how deeply entrenched the idea that there is somehow a difference between folks with European descent and, well, everyone else is. But anti-racism is a way of being not a declaration. Here are a few questions to reflect on as you (and by you, I mean white people) continue down your path of anti-racism.
- Why are you white?
- If racism benefits white people, why are you against it?
- If racism persists in this country, how will that negatively impact you?
- How has your anti-racism impacted where you spend your time and money?
- How do you use your white privilege to your advantage?