HEAL and Racial Justice

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
It might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

Audre Lorde
Litany for Survival

A crisis doesn’t become a crisis only when it enters into our consciousness. Black lives have been plundered for centuries on Turtle Island, the United States of America. When there is a camera to bear witness – of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and too many others – it flows into our collective consciousness in a way that hits a tipping point.  

As Toni Morrison says: “What struck me most about those who rioted was how long they waited. The restraint they showed, not the spontaneity but the restraint. They waited and waited for justice and it didn’t come. No one talks about that.”

Every night, police choppers circle overhead. Our HEAL offices are right where many of the Oakland protests are occurring, joining many cities from Los Angeles, to Minneapolis, to Atlanta. 

We did not begin to be interconnected and interdependent because of a pandemic. Each of us in the HEAL community knows that we have been interconnected for centuries and believe that our liberation is tied to the liberation of others. 

HEAL has spent the last five years in Navajo Nation, and the last two months specifically leaning into solidarity during the COVID-19 surge. COVID-19 didn’t launch the health crisis in Navajo Nation. The root causes are known and must be named: Genocide, neglect, racism.  

We have also witnessed resilience and self-determination on full display. Those that were never meant to survive the formation of the United States, our Native and Black colleagues, fellows and community, nevertheless persevere.   

There is not a partner site that HEAL serves that does not have daily structural violence and needless death. There is not a partner site that HEAL serves where the patients are not black or brown. HEAL’s commitment is to stand in solidarity, when no one is paying attention and when everyone is paying attention. Every day.     

A deep commitment to health equity is a deep commitment to seeing Native and Black people as fully human. 

We seek to educate ourselves on the colonial roots of global health, to discuss power and privilege and our own positionality; these are essential components to do global health work.  We seek to build coalitions with organizations speaking truth to power. We seek to do the work in our own communities and to hold difficult conversations about power, structural violence,  and dismantle anti-blackness.  We seek to honor the disproportionate harm and violence our Black, Indigenous, People of Color fellows and alumni face.

Handwritten sign of solidarity in the heart of Navajo Nation
Handwritten sign of solidarity in the heart of Navajo Nation

We center our site fellows from communities that have been disproportionately impacted, now and throughout history. It is critical to talk about structural and systemic racism, because racism is deeply embedded in our most essential institutions, from government to law enforcement to health care.

We stand with Black Lives Matter as they once again take to the streets to demand justice, to demand accountability. We stand behind redistributive justice. We realize this is deeply tied to global health.

Although we recognize that the moral arc of the universe is long and bends towards justice, we also recognize that our patients and our communities cannot wait. Waiting too often means dying; it too often means losing more family, friends, and loved ones. We need to see structural racism and systemic oppression for what they are — a societal emergency as deadly as any pandemic. As frontline health professionals, we know that our work is deeply connected to the struggle for justice and equity being waged on streets throughout the world — the diseases we treat are too often caused and amplified by racism and oppression. If we want to heal the bodies of our patients, we cannot ignore the wounds in our society.

As we respond to the pandemic of racism within our societies, it is essential that we continue to practice solidarity as an action — showing up with humility and without ego to stand with our communities and our patients to demand urgent change.

With love and respect, 

The HEAL Team