Carol PennBy Carol A. Penn, DO, MA, ABOM, FACOFP; member, ACOFP Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force

Many are saying that we are at a watershed moment in history. As we are coming out of this pandemic and economic free fall, we are seeing where the pieces have fallen and who is continuing to fall between the cracks. We are seeing violence of all types on the rise; hatred and mistrust not abating. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote: “There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or neglect. The moving finger writes and having writ move on… We still have a choice today nonviolent coexistence or co-annihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.”

It has been more than 50 years since these words were written, and in the face of rising violence and increasing disparities, these words seem to echo even more loudly with the passage of time. It seems that—along with the cacophony of despair, time and history—as with generations gone before—there are those that are rising up in movements like Black Lives Matter and White Coats for Black Lives that are trying to take their place. Many organizations, including ours, have formed and created diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) task forces, while others are creating jobs and hiring diversity, equity and inclusion officers. People inside and outside of these organizations and efforts are asking “What can I do? What do I need to know now?”

The key to help people on the “doing” aspect is to understand some of the recent vocabulary emerging out of these efforts, as we endeavor to understand the choice before us as chaos or community.

First, let’s consider the phrase “anti-racism.” In his best selling book, How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi writes that an anti-racist is one who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and non-needs-developing and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequity. I believe that this idea of being an anti-racist creates the container or the lens from which to look in this choice we are facing between chaos or community.

Three other words that have come into view are ally, accomplice and activist. Let’s take a look at their definitions:

  • Ally: An ally loves you from a distance. An ally is someone who has unpacked their personal privilege but hasn’t yet made the link to institutional issues and is not willing to risk anything besides their mental discomfort. (Deray McKesson, On the Other Side of Freedom)
  • Accomplice: An accomplice loves you up close. We need allies to make the transition to accomplices. An accomplice rolls up their sleeves and engages in the work that is beyond them. They will march in the streets, yes. But an accomplice also faces their own participation in whiteness, acknowledges it and then looks beyond that personal acknowledgement to identify how their awareness can be applied to changing the systems and mind—sets that prop up the system. (Deray McKesson, On the Other Side of Freedom)
  • Activist: An activist is willing to engage other organizations and individuals and join forces to bring about needed change with other like minded individuals.

One can lean in and be an anti-racist and an ally, or anti-racist and an accomplice or activist. I am encouraging all within the medical community to lean in and study what it means to become an anti-racist and to then move themselves down the path of ally to accomplice to activist.

The time is upon us and the question remains: Chaos or community? Who are we as a medical community, swearing to “first do no harm”—does that mean do no harm to some but not all? Does that mean being educated about medicine but not humanity in all of its wildly diverse and complex expressions? Who are we as osteopathic physicians and who are we as a medical community?

Dr. King wrote in that same 1968 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now in this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the theft of time. Life often leaves us standing bare naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affair of men does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residuals of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’”

I hope that we are not too late—that as medical professionals we will align ourselves on the right side of history for cases Iike social and environmental justice. When the “moving finger writes,” it will write that the osteopathic medical community did its share to collaborate and create a world of coexistence where our children and our children’s children could grow and thrive together on an earth and within a humanity that is for all of the people by all of the people.

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