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See It, Name It, Mourn It – and Take Action to Heal the World

In what has become an agonizingly familiar occurrence, this past week we have seen two mass murders in the USA make headlines around the world. The most recent, in Boulder, Colorado, involved a man whose motives are not yet known, take a high-power assault rifle into a grocery store and kill ten people, including the first police officer who arrived on scene.  The second mass killing, several days earlier in Atlanta, saw 8 people killed, including six women of Asian descent, all of whom worked in one of two spas that were targeted.

We can all imagine the shock, and grief and loss experienced by the loved ones of all who were killed in both senseless attacks.  So many lives forever changed by the “before” and “after” that these events indelibly mark.

The Atlanta attack also points to a deeper, uglier truth.  This attack was also a hate crime.  We can see a relationship between the targeted attack on Asian women  – and the rise in Anti-Asian hate crimes.  This violence in the name of hate is known only too well by many; the Hispanics who were targets of the Walmart mass shooting in El Paso, the Jewish worshippers hunted down at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Black members of the Emanuel AME Church who were killed in South Charleston, members of the Sikh community hunted down at the Sikh Gurdwara Temple in Wisconsin, the women who were hunted and shot at Ecole Polytechnique, the 51 members of two Muslim mosques gunned down in Christchurch.

These abhorrent and public atrocities are the most dramatic expressions of hate – the tip of a massive iceberg.  But anyone who identifies with or loves a member of those targeted groups also understands and feels the threat of the accumulated denigration and exclusion.  And the lurking sense of threat that the world could change at any moment – merely because of one’s skin color, ethnic or religious affiliation or gender.

So what does this all have to do with us in the Department of Family Medicine?  It is easy to feel powerless in the aftermath of a tsunami of violence, hate and grief.  However, in addition to activism and efforts to achieve social justice, we have the opportunity to make some space and do a little mending in our own local ecosystems and spheres of influence.  These acts of hate have a history, they are part of a larger narrative – and all of us carry different pieces of them in different ways.  Slowing down and being mindful about how people around us might be carrying this is important.  Here are three suggestions:

  1. Educate yourself about the Canadian history of anti-Asian racism and what is being done today to address it.  We know that hate crimes against people of Asian descent is dramatically on the rise in Canada.  Here are some resources that are doing something about it.  https://www.complex.com/life/how-to-help-fight-anti-asian-racism-in-canada/
  2. If you are a manager, leader, or influencer, consider making space both publicly and privately to acknowledge the impact of this violence on your colleagues.  Hate crimes targeting a specific group can also bring up trauma felt by other targeted groups.  Families carry stories – these events can reverberate far beyond what might be shared in the workspace.

    Consider such statements as “the recent attacks targeting Asian women remind us all of the unfair burden carried by racialized Canadians and Asian women, in particular .  Can we take a moment to honor the resilience and courage of who carry on despite this burden?  And if there are folks who are struggling right now and need a bit of time or support with their work, please let me know.”  (NB – As with anything “tender”, no one should be pressured to share or disclose.  And if anyone does honor their colleague or manager with a disclosure of how racism or hate is impacting them or their family, that information should also be held in trust and not shared without permission.)

  3. Continue seeking out the training opportunities that will help us all build the skills to identify moments of microaggression or inadvertent racism and the capacity to offer meaningful support to those hurt by hatred and exclusion.

Part of our departmental response to anti-racism, inclusion and equity is to promote true “allyship”.  Some opportunities have already been presented and many more are on their way.  For now, consider signing up for a weekly email EDI & Antiracism reflection prompt and monthly drop in zoom community of practice that Dr. Tejal Patel and Andrea Pansoy have started. You can sign up by providing your email address here: https://forms.office.com/r/fVQi8stgdK. The next cohort for the prompts will begin on April 5th.  Soon we hope to have additional organized and supported working groups and projects that use the talents and compassion of the wider department in working towards the world we all crave.

Dr. Cathy Risdon

    • McMaster University Department of Family Medicine
    • David Braley Health Sciences Centre
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