Updated: May 6, 2020
It is said that you cannot be what you cannot see. I would also add that those who are not seen or heard are not believed. The Covid-19 pandemic has shined a new light on an incredibly old, yet pervasive problem in America. A problem that black and brown communities have routinely and historically felt and expressed, but are consistently not believed, even in the face of supporting data. It is a problem that motivated me to start a healthcare recruitment firm focused on the placement of diverse and underrepresented medical providers.
It is a problem that has also motivated me to be outspoken on such matters because for those marginalized communities, it can be matter of life and death. As an African- American male who is also a husband, father, brother, son, and CEO, I am here to say, yet again, that the problem is not the data. The problem is systemic racism.
For those still in doubt, it is important to note that you do not actually have to be a racist to contribute to systemic racism. However, the denial of its existence should give you some pause. Furthermore, organizations cannot simply “Chief Diversity Officer” their way out of this problem. For those who feel this is a topic we should simply “get over,” I would like to share my personal experience. The cost of being an entrepreneur of color also means that business, at some point, will intersect with socioeconomic issues that matter to and affect people who look like me or carry similar shared life experiences.
If you enjoy any success at all, it will also intersect with powerful and influential people. People who may not share your experiences, but are in key positions to determine whether or not to provide information, resources, investments, and contacts that can help grow businesses run by people of color, especially during crisis moments like a pandemic.
When it is said that minority-owned businesses often fair worse compared to their white counterparts, it is not that the former has any less work ethic. Nor do we curry favor to the over-utilization of the “race” card, as many will sadly assume. It is simply that systemic racism in America exists. Unfortunately, many individuals choose not to see it and therefore disregard the unique experiences of black and brown people living in America.
Unfortunately, this usually results in the disregard and silencing of their voice. And while there are ample historical examples of notable black and brown figures pushing boundaries and exhibiting excellence as well as "model minorities" who are often strategically selected and weaponized to shadow the experiences and treatment of other minorities, race will matter until it does not.
Race, gender, as well as ethnicity are still factors used to this day to deny the larger percentage of black and brown business owners and professionals the same access and opportunities to succeed as their white counterparts. And, because there are inequities in every corner of our society, we must expect them to also bleed into our healthcare system, with some receiving substantially better care and access than others. We must consider the social determinants of health when we assess a human being’s healthcare. It is about human rights as well as it is about common sense.
You do not need more data to prove that fundamental truth. You do, however, need to care enough to create necessary systemic changes as well as believe black and brown people when we speak out about our unique past and present experiences interacting with the healthcare system. It is worth noting that all evidence has pointed to decades worth of research and data stating that the United States would be unprepared for a global pandemic.
Yet, here we are dealing with a global pandemic amidst the political hijacking of our public health system which has ultimately put more lives at risk. When will we learn?
Sometimes the truth can be offensive but let us be honest with ourselves here. We can no longer have conversations about the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 without acknowledging, discussing and ultimately working towards eliminating the pervasiveness and ubiquity of racism in our healthcare system.
If we continue to keep kicking the can down the road on these matters, things will never change, the social determinants of health that lead to disparities will remain, and black and brown people will continue to be an afterthought.
While the data is critical, we must not run away from the racism. As someone who recruits medical providers of color, I have often found that it is the data that inspires their work but the racism that inspires their exit.
As governments and leaders around the country make preparations to re-open their cities and towns and as people envision a new normal, we must also make plans to heal our broken and devastated healthcare system, and make changes today that will ensure better health outcomes for black and brown communities tomorrow.