Jun 01 2020

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 78

by at 8:06 am under Uncategorized

I can’t breathe. Again. When will this stop?

Once again, our cities are on fire. I have lived through the Civil Rights Movement, the assassination of Dr. King, the Vietnam protests, Rodney King, Freddie Gray, the Occupy movement, murders in churches, synagogues and mosques. There have been so many senseless deaths, each of them the tip of the massive iceberg that is racial, economic and cultural inequality in America. Too many others, some whose names we know, and countless others we have not heard of have senselessly lost their freedom or their lives, and last week it was George Floyd. Each time, there were protests, many of them violent. Each of these fires erupted in response to some expression of supremacy, be it white, military, economic or religious.

My heart goes out to the Floyd family and to all who suffer the bitter taste of institutional racism. How could anybody not be filled with resentment and pain, and lash out against endless, stifling oppression? I cannot imagine having to instruct my sons on how to behave during a random traffic stop. I will never condone violence as a solution, but cannot turn away from expressions of anguish, either.

These dreadful murders must be addressed forthrightly, but they demand our attention to the core inequalities that underlie the beliefs and actions that enable and encourage acts of violence against innocent people. The response of a woman in Central Park at the sight of a menacing (to her) black male birdwatcher, a Harvard graduate no less, is deeply troubling. Racism and paranoia run so deep and penetrate even into the hearts of highly educated people who fancy themselves to be social liberals.

As many of you know, addressing minority health disparities — another legacy of racism — has been one of our signature activities during my time as director of this cancer center. Thanks to the great work of Lucile Adams-Campbell and her team, we have accomplished much, but the provision of great research-inspired cancer prevention and care provide nothing more than a very useful Band-Aid over the deep, festering wound of racism.

Last week I talked about two people who were heading into hospice in the final stages of their lives. One of these men is my father. He will live out the rest of his days surrounded by an adoring, close family in the comfort of his wonderful home. He has led a long, remarkable life. However, so many exceptional people never get the freedom or opportunity needed to succeed. Anybody who thinks otherwise either is not paying attention, or just likes things the way they are.

The other man is just 37 years old, black, living in Ward 8. The cancer that will kill him soon did not occur due to racial inequities, but his care has been so challenging. He has spent time in jail, and missed many appointments over the years as he dealt with the chaos of poverty. An avid sports fan, he analyzes the Redskins’ players and in-game tactics with the precision and insight of a veteran front office official. The closest he got to running that show was as a game-day security guard at FedEx field. He is a really smart guy. He just never had a chance to show it. He too has agreed to home hospice, but lives alone, and would not be safe in the home of the mother of his children. So, he will spend the rest of his life in his sister’s house. He deserved better. His life matters.

Cancer is bad, but we can treat it, and frequently cure it. However, I don’t have any magical prescriptions for this illness, the so-called Original Sin of this country. I do hope that change is coming, and I want to be part of that change, because until people like George Floyd can breathe freely, nobody can and nobody should.

Stay safe, and be well.


2 responses so far | Categories: Uncategorized

2 Responses to “Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 78”

  1. Neal Bliven on 01 Jun 2020 at 11:39 am

    General Prescription to counteract Original Sin (archery term for shooting short of the target):

    1. admit that the mark was missed

    2. accept the just punishment (of sinner or of scapegoat, i.e. accept justice or mercy)

    3. repent (i.e. stop missing the mark)

    4. restore (i.e. undo the damage)

    Specific Prescription to counteract “America’s Original Sin” (referring to institutional/constitutional aiming short of the philosophical target of all mankind being created equal such that operationally “all men are created equal, but some men are created less equal than others”):

    1. admit that the founding father’s compromising on the issue of slavery in order to constitute a single nation from a collection of slave-holding and non-slavery colonies was a mistake (it missed the mark)

    2. accept past/present/future deaths from civil war, abortion, pandemics, etc. as just punishment or accept The Great Exchange as merciful transferring of punishment to The Scapegoat

    3. repent by treating all men as having been created equal (a step that began with the abolishing of slavery in America)

    4. restore opportunities to ancestors of slaves through some sort of restorative justice that might involve transfer of government lands and other resources to ancestors of slaves (making sure that the transfer of such lands doesn’t preclude restorative justice in the case of tribal treaty violations)

    Dr. Weiner, as you know, that’s the kind of prescription with which Georgetown University is struggling. “Take the medicine, even though it might not be pleasant to the taste!”

  2. Neal Bliven on 02 Jun 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Oops! Meant to type “descendants” of slaves rather than “ancestors” of slaves.

    I admit that I missed the mark!

    I’m grateful for The Great Exchange (even for relatively minor sins : – )

    I’ll endeavor to do a better job of proofreading what I type (before sending)

    I’ve restored the correct word in order to correct any misunderstanding.

    Well, God even works sins for good (at least providing an additional illustration of a point).

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