Far too often, individuals in our society, under the guise of protecting the community, enact violence upon people of color, such us in the brutal and horrific killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling. We condemn the pervasive pattern of racist violence and oppression, and we stand in solidarity with those protesting racism and White privilege. We affirm that Black Lives Matter.
During the current pandemic, we have seen the COVID-19 virus so clearly highlight the inequities in our society—with Black people who represent 13% of our population yet only 3% of our wealth, make up 31% of the patients with COVID-19 and 40% of those who are dying. These statistics reflect the racial health disparities seen in rates of other medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes, that affect Black Americans at higher rates compared to other racial groups. These racial health disparities are present even after controlling for socioeconomic status, education, employment status, and insurance access. Further, they highlight the toll that our nation’s long history of systemic racism has on the physical health of Black people and other minorities.
However, Black people are not just suffering and dying from illnesses complicated by unjust access to health services for minorities. They are suffering and dying from the ways in which racism and White privilege have affected people of color across every aspect of their lives, including higher rates of police brutality, decreased opportunities for economic advancement and equity in educational settings, and prejudice and discrimination from individuals in our society, both intentional and unintentional.
We know that systemic racism takes a toll not only on the physical health of people of color, but also on their psychological health. Black people have withstood centuries of traumatization by White supremacism and White privilege — traumatization that clearly continues today. And yet Black people and other people of color do not receive mental health treatment at the same rates as White people. Only one third of Black Americans in need of mental health care actually receive that care, related to lack of access to care and well-founded distrust of health systems (read about the Tuskegee syphilis experiments). Even when Black people do receive mental health care, it is less likely to be evidence-based care and more likely to be crisis-based care.
As an Institute committed to compassionate, evidence-based mental health and language and literacy services, we have a clear role to play in dismantling racism and White privilege. We recognize the importance of reflection and commitment to change—to examine any roles our Institute may play in inadvertently upholding these inequities and addressing how we can better serve our communities.
In the past, MARI has formally committed to making diversity, equity, and inclusion a core tenet of our organization for both our clients and our staff. As part of that commitment, we have routinely required all staff to participate in training on unconscious bias, harassment, and ways to embrace equality. However, when confronting systemic racism, it’s not enough.
We want to be clear. This is not just a statement to issue a statement; it is a call to action. We want to ensure that changes are actually made and that we adjust the MARI culture in response to not only the ongoing protests, but because it is the right thing to do.
We at MARI are currently working on our five-year strategic plan and are including DEI-specific initiatives to examine and develop action and accountability plans to address racism and privilege at MARI. We invite everyone to reflect on concrete actions they can take in their role here at MARI to be inclusive and equitable and to share them with their supervisors as well as the leadership team. You can submit thoughts, ideas, actions, consideration—whatever you would like to share—to firstname.lastname@example.org at any time. We are developing a list of priorities centered on DEI initiatives, and in that list, we will clearly identify actions as well as accountability attached to each priority.
Former President Barack Obama said, “It’s natural to wish for life ‘to just get back to normal’ as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’…it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station…to work together to create a ‘new normal’ in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.”
Several of our university faculty and administrators, such as Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, Robert M. Sellers, U-M President Mark Schlissel (letter to U-M community and call for change ), and Rackham Dean Mike Solomon have spoken in meaningful ways about these difficult times; I encourage you to read their words.
For other statements regarding anti-racism and calls for change from across the University of Michigan, see: U-M Messages of Outrage and Hope. We at MARI have been developing a list of Anti-Racism Resources for all to access and for MARI to continue to build as resources are discovered.