By Nichole Ammon, MSEd, LPCC-S
“I’ve not always had the language to describe, unpack, frame my experience[i].”
“You can’t awaken someone who’s pretending to be asleep[iii]."
The world has been pretending to sleep for such a long time, looking away from that which is uncomfortable. The United States has pretended to sleep, ignoring the injustice and inequity suffered by black communities, brown communities and poor communities. Opening one’s eyes is frightening. It forces you to bear witness to suffering. It also forces some of us to account for our own unearned privilege.
“Seeing white privilege is the act of seeing the seemingly invisible[i].”
Part of my personal work in this journey is to look at and unpack my own privilege. The part of white privilege that weighs on me most heavily is knowing my sons are safer and have more secure futures simply because they are white. I felt that truth painfully when Tamir Rice was murdered in 2014. He was the same age as my youngest son, 12-years old. I could have seen them being friends. This can be no more.
“We had known fear in our silence too and we grew tired of being silent[i].”
In the past four months COVID has caused a tidal wave of suffering. Its enormity is palpable. And after the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, it seems more people are willing to finally bear witness. Thankfully, more people are also willing to spend their privilege in service of others and in an effort to demand justice and equity.
A former medical student[iv] not long ago wrote: “It is not enough to be aware. Awareness is nothing without action.” We are seeing action too. Protests continue globally, leaders are making policy changes. Just this past Sunday, several NEOMED student organizations pulled together a #WhiteCoatsforBlackLives demonstration on campus. Their passion is inspiring, and I am so proud they are using their voice.
“Protest is telling the truth in public[iv] .”
Days after the death of George Floyd, the same student quoted above[iv] went on to say: “I know I can't change everyone's hearts & I'm not sure that's even my objective... in my eyes, that doesn't accomplish the mission of fundamental change. In speaking out, though, I was reminded of your teachings and those of other allies/advocates who embody antiracism. Fearlessly speaking out is an empowering and effective mechanism of action.”
“Instead of choosing to blend in invisibly with the status quo, the courageous must raise their collective voices in defiance of invalid social deceptions. When others in society witness these unbelievable acts of defiance, many more voices join the chorus of the truth tellers demanding an end to visible injustice [ii].”
A friend recently shared a little poem that said: “what if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?” Interesting notion. A year overwhelmed by illness, death and tragedy forcing us all to look suffering in the eye and respond resoundingly – “NO MORE.” In the Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu talk about how all humans want to stop suffering, that we all want joy. In reflecting on all of this, maybe 2020 is the year we have been waiting for. It has forced us to be awake, forced us to look at and acknowledge the suffering all around us. And, maybe that is a critical step towards joy.
“Blessings only become a reality if they are recognized and received[ii].”
So, going back to the question – what message is my body carrying? I still do not quite have the precise words, but I think it is calling me to action, to continue spending my privilege. Action that shifts the trajectory towards both equity and joy. For me, action includes listening, speaking out and standing with, as both an ally and an accomplice[v]. It includes learning and teaching. Action includes advocacy for real change at the policy and structural level. Without demanding and fighting for systemic change, we will find ourselves here once again. Reusing a protest sign for the third time[vi].
“The louder I give love, the more I will experience the immeasurable reverberating joy of a life well lived[ii].”
Importantly, action shifting the trajectory towards equity and joy includes taking time for activities that bring happiness. It includes self-care, reflection and rest. It includes a lot of laughter and humor. It includes lifting up those around me, expressing appreciation, friendship and love. It includes the Integrated Care at NEOMED (IC@N) ECHO program, which strives to help address health equity and bring our community members joy in work.
As we head into the Fourth of July holiday weekend, if you are reading this, please know that I appreciate you. Hope to see you during our next IC@N ECHO session on July 10, 2020 at noon (eastern standard time). Take care of yourselves and each other.
[i] The Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, by Deray Mckesson.
[ii] Quotes from the Edge of Nowhere: The Art of Noticing Unnoticed Life Wisdom. By Gary LeRoy, MD, FAAFP, AAFP President | OAFP Past President https://www.ohioafp.org/professional-wellness/quotes-from-the-edge-of-nowhere/
[iii] Edward Snowden, during an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience (podcast) October 23, 2019
[iv] Jasmine Campbell, MD. NEOMED class of 2020.
[v] “An ally loves you from a distance, accomplice loves you up close.” Page 101, The Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, by Deray Mckesson.
[vi] In reference to the 2014 protests, Eric Garner ‘s last words, “I Can’t Breathe”, and the same phrase being used in 2020 protests because people dying at the hands of police keep saying those last words.
[vii] Brooks SK, Webster RK, Smith LE, et al. The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. Lancet (london, england). 2020;395(10227):912-920. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30460-8
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