‘White Coats for Black Lives’ Protest: Healthcare Workers Take a Knee — ‘We all Have the Same Organs’

Healthcare professionals gather outside Barnes-Jewish Hospital to demonstrate in support o
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

The protest movement White Coats for Black Lives, where healthcare workers kneel in groups to support protesters demanding racial equality and justice, gathered at locations across the country over the weekend.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on a White Coats for Black Lives protest outside of Emory University Hospital on Friday, where healthcare workers knelt for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the same amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck before he died:

The deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery came right on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, a disease that growing evidence links to a disproportionate impact in black and Latino communities. That is only one of the ways in which being black, Latino or Native American is associated with poorer health outcomes in the United States. Those communities also suffer higher rates of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and higher rates of maternal deaths.

Research suggests the racial inequities in health care go beyond the impact of poorer economic status and environment on health, to the medical impact that comes just from experiencing racism. And it calls for public notice, the health care workers say.

“We all have the same organs,” Dr. Maneesha Agarwal, a pediatric emergency doctor  who kneeled from home where she is caring for her young daughter. “But how you’re treated poorly due to race can result in a lot of differences in the hormones in the body, and how your organs grow and develop. A mother’s experiences and hormonal changes can even impact her unborn child in utero. That can impact a person’s own health through life.”

“I mean, look no further than coronavirus,” Dr. Johnny Jones, a gastroenterologist who protested at Emory Decatur Hospital, said. “There definitely is some intersectionality in terms of life expectancy amongst black people relative to the majority.”

“Another step forward may be the order by the federal government this week requiring laboratories to report the race, ethnicity, age and gender of people tested for COVID-19,” the Journal-Constitution reported.

The Kansas City Star reported on a group of about 150 healthcare workers and students who gathered on Saturday:

Demonstrators took a knee before forming a circle and listening as members of the crowd stepped forward to share stories and call for an end to systemic and institutionalized racism.

Zainab Self, a dental student, said she is the only black woman in her class of 105 students.“We are so tired of being told that this is what we should expect our entire lives,” Self said in discussing racial profiling and discrimination.

Self said that she is married to a white police officer and said he was shocked his first days on the job when he experienced how terrified people of color were when he stopped them for traffic violations. She said she hopes things change before she is forced to have that conversation with her own children.

The Star reported that protesters “urged the white members of the crowd to reflect internally and ensure they were not harming people of color.”

In Fairfield, Alaska, a “White Coats for Black Lives” demonstration saw about 100 healthcare workers dropping to their knees on Saturday, Newsminer reported:

“It is a demonstration, a rally, to show our health care support for the inequalities in health care for black and Indigenous lives in the state and in the country,” said Dr. Jennifer Ribar, who practices osteopathic manipulation

Fakira Borkovec, a family nurse practitioner, stood with her family.

“I’m marching for my children who are black. I’m marching for all the black people in America, around the world who are continuously discriminated against,” Borkovec said.

Dr. Carla Cartagena De Jesus, a pediatrician, addressed the crowd following the walk. “We have a unique and very humbling platform as health care workers and that platform is supposed to be dedicated to the health and wellbeing of all,” she said.

The White Coats for Black Lives website states as part of its mission, “Eliminating racial bias in the practice of medicine and recognizing racism as a threat to the health and well-being of people of color.”

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