Reflecting on DEI on our Day Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Because these words are not a part of a speech transcript, and quite challenging to find the source citation to this oft-cited quote, Dr. Quentin Young recalled that Dr. King spoke these words spontaneously at the convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966. And these words continue to hold true today.
This morning as I reflected on this day devoted to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, this article (attached) by Nicole Farmer and colleagues caught our eye: Reigniting Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to action: The role of the behavioral scientist in the movement for social justice and racial equity. Although outside our pulmonary field, reading their article begs us to consider what the manuscript would look like if we changed the latter part of the title to: “The role of the pulmonary and critical care specialist in the movement for social justice and racial equity.”
In the field of pulmonary medicine, there have been several discussions of areas of race and ethnic-based disparities in care, from the cohort study of ICU patients by Eric Gottlieb and colleagues showing that in the ICU, Asian, Black and Hispanic patients with COVID-19 received less supplemental oxygen than white patients, associated with pulse oximeter performance. And now we eagerly anticipate the Workshop Report from the ATS examining race-based interpretation of lung function, which will be the topic of discussion at Pulmonary Grand Rounds on February 23.
In his book, How to Be an Antiracist, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi defines racism as a “marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.” He further defines racial inequity as “when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing.” A key takeaway from his book is the idea that in order to be antiracist, one of the most consequential actions we can take is to fight against racist policy defined as “any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups,” and work toward antiracist policy, “any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups.” In the words of Dr. Cornell West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Dr. Kendi’s book and way of thinking can help frame an approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and, importantly, justice: by educating and being a part of the discussion and advocating on a policy level in our whatever part of the medicine/pulmonary/critical care community (as well as in our lives outside of medicine) we choose to inhabit. If we do this, if we embrace our role as advocates in and through our work, then imagine where we will can go as a society.
“The time is always right to do what is right.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
With that, it is my wish for us all is that even in the midst of our busy days in clinic and in the hospital, we all take a moment to reflect on the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and our role in continuing his work.