March 3, 2016

The beginning of wisdom

By Andrew M. Harrison

By Andrew M. Harrison

Is racism the result of one of the basic human emotions, social disorder, both, or neither? Is this question even valid? From contemporary American psychologists such as Paul Ekman and Robert Plutchik, I can stretch an argument racism is derived from some basic human emotion and thus a sort of fundamental human right. From the ancient Analects of Confucius, I can argue “the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name” and thus racism is the result of some improperly balanced social construct.

On Wednesday, February 10, 2016, Mayo Clinic’s Office for Diversity (Mayo Clinic College of Medicine) hosted its 5th Diversity Discussion at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus in Minnesota: “Social Justice: Roles and Responsibilities in Medicine”. Panelists were Charlie Rose, Michelle Hwang, and Mark Wieland, MD. This event was moderated by Barbara Jordan. Two days later, Camara Jones, MD, PhD, MPH (President of the American Public Health Association) presented the Grand Rounds for Mayo Clinic’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS): “Naming, Measuring and Addressing the Impacts of Racism on Health.” This event was hosted by Joy Balls-Berry, PhD. Both events were held in the context of Black History Month.


Dr. Jones: The power to speak (Rochester, MN)

Who is qualified to answer my question? I participated in the Office for Diversity’s first Diversity Discussion panel and have written more on this subject, but I am not. Based on the self-introductions of all three recent panelists, neither are they. Is someone qualified? Again I do not know, but someone must speak. It is easy for me to descend into facts and figures, but in these details, I will not truly speak. In this context, I was struck by the fearlessness (perhaps courage) of Dr. Jones to speak. I was struck by her ability to name racism. Still my question is not answered, but in the passion of her words, I felt the call for bravery to collectively face racism by simply calling out its name.

Only two weeks later (February 24 through 26), I attended an annual meeting of Mayo Clinic’s Spirit of EAGLES American Indian/Alaska Native Initiative on Cancer at Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville campus in Florida: Principal Investigator Judith Kaur, MD. In attendance 1000+ miles away was much of the same audience, including Dr. Balls-Berry and Sumedha Penheiter, PhD. There I was struck by two similarities to the presentations above. First, the pain of racism, prejudice, and discrimination, which I have previously written about and/or solicited many posts for this blog: here, here, here, here, here, and here (Black History Month 2015), with posts on women’s rights omitted only in the sheer interest of space. Second, the seemingly unanimous call for universal health care as a basic human right, which I have also used this blog to ramble about here, here, and here.

Group Ocean Photo

The voice of Spirit of EAGLES (Jacksonville, FL)

I speak, but am not qualified and thus do not know if anyone can (or should) hear. However, how many voices are required to manifest wisdom? What more must be named? Who has yet to speak? In a closing reference to The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Michelle Alexander, 2010) by Dr. Jones in Rochester, as well as a presentation by Christi Patten, PhD in Jacksonville, I am reminded of the enormous challenge of even obtaining funding to research subjects such as racism and health disparities. However, resonance follows when passion and wisdom sing together.

Roubidoux Satter Strickland

Jacksonville, FL (left to right): Marilyn Roubidoux, MD, Delight Satter, MPH, and June Strickland, PhD, RN

Andrew M. Harrison is one of the co-managers of Mayo Clinic’s Diversity in Education Blog and a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Mayo Clinic.

Acknowledgement: The continued support from the voices of others I could not fit into this post, such as Shobha Srinivasan, PhD and David Baines, MD.

To attempt to call all people and things by their proper name:

Sherrill (Charlie) J. Rose, Mayo Medical School student

Soyun (Michelle) M. Hwang, Mayo Medical School student

Mark L. Wieland, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic

Barbara L. Jordan, Administrator, Office for Diversity, Mayo Clinic

Camara P. Jones, MD, PhD, MPH

Senior Fellow at The Satcher Health Leadership Institute, Morehouse School of Medicine

Joyce (Joy) E. Balls-Berry, PhD, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Mayo Clinic

Judith S. Kaur, MD, Professor of Oncology, Mayo Clinic

Sumedha G. Penheiter, PhD, Program Manager, Office of Health Disparities Research, Mayo Clinic

Christi A. Patten, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Mayo Clinic

Marilyn A. Roubidoux, MD, Professor of Radiology, University of Michigan

Delight E. Satter, MPH, Senior Advisor for Tribal Research and Program Integration, CDC

C. June Strickland, PhD, RN Professor of Psychosocial & Community Health, University of Washington

Shobha Srinivasan, PhD, Health Disparities Research Coordinator, National Cancer Institute

David R. Baines, MD, My living inspiration: Walk in Beauty

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