Excising the Cancer of Racism

May 18, 2022 | Michael Fraser

A Black man in a COVID-19 face mask, crowd from a racial equity protest visible behind himThe mass shooting in Buffalo this weekend has left me at a loss for words. I feel angry, outraged, devastated, and mournful.

How long will it take us to heal from the unfortunate legacy of racism that is still so persistent, pervasive, and perverse? A legacy that concentrates power in the hands of a few, and a legacy that allows systems that should protect us to tacitly condone events of this kind. A legacy that created a mythical hierarchy of human value. A legacy that spawns hate, fear, and separation at a systemic level. A legacy that produced the conditions that allowed an 18-year-old white man to drive over 150 miles, open fire on a grocery store, and kill ten Black people, injure others, all while livestreaming the event on the internet.

How many more of these events must happen before we see real change? True transformation has eluded us so far, and will, until we all commit to fully interrupting the legacy of racism, call it for what it is, and then do the work of healing and transformation needed to move us to a new and better place.

That place seems far away in the shadow of this weekend’s shootings, but we can’t give up. To give up now would mean giving in to the narrative of hate and inequity that spawns this kind of evil and produces these kinds of events. Instead, the time is now to give more—give more of our energy and collective wisdom to push forward efforts that promote healing, that advance transformation.

It’s time to give more of ourselves as public health professionals dedicated to preventing disease and promoting health, including work to undo racism and to advance racial healing.

Our work at ASTHO builds on three core facets.

First, we must tell the truth about racism: it is wrong, it has advantaged few at the expense of many, and it persists in our systems and structures at all levels. Second, we must heal. That is, we must overcome the separation, anger, grief, devastation, and outrage and move toward connectedness, appreciation, and mutual respect of differences. Third, we must transform both ourselves and our systems to promote health and wellbeing for everyone.

As we process the shooting in Buffalo this weekend, let’s go back to those three touchstones of truth, racial healing, and transformation, and recommit to our shared purpose. Let’s give more toward advancing the work of truth, racial healing, and transformation, and not give up or give in. For it is only then that we will truly realize our vision of supporting state and territorial health agencies to advance health equity and optimal health for all.

We look forward to advancing these efforts with state and territorial health agencies in the future.