Advancing Social Justice, Health Equity, and Community
TRANSCRIPT: February 9, 2021
Hello, good afternoon. If you’re on the East Coast and welcome to the annual Daniel Callahan lecture, advancing social justice, health, equity and Community. We are privileged to be joined today by Dr. Patrick Smith will be in conversation with Hastings Center President, Dr. Mildred Solomon. We want you, our audience, to play a role in today’s conversation. So please ask your questions as you have them by typing them into the Q&A box at the bottom of your screen. We’ve left dedicated time at the end of the hour for the conversions to address your questions, though some of you may have the option to raise your virtual hand. Please note that we’ll only be taking questions through the Q&A box. A recorded version of today’s webinar will be available on the Hastings Center’s website later today, where you can also find recordings of our previous webinars. And now it’s my distinct pleasure to introduce Hasting Center president Dr. Mildred Solomon.
Thank you very much, Isabel. Just trying to get my screen adjusted here. I’ve lost some of it, lost some connectivity, so I apologize for that. Hold on one minute. OK. All right, thanks. Everything’s back. Good afternoon, everybody. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to this, the second annual Daniel Callahan public program. Dan Callahan was a philosopher who co-founded the Hastings Center with psychiatrist Willard Gailen in nineteen nine. It was a time of change and tumult, the civil rights movement, the anti Vietnam War efforts, the women’s movement and within the sphere of health and health care, a movement aimed at redressing medical paternalism and patient empowerment. In that social context, Dan and Will had a deeply democratic idea. They could tell that advances in the life sciences were going to stimulate new biomedical technologies, which in turn would affect health, health care and even more broadly, human relationships and human well-being. It was a democratic idea because they believe that there should be broad public debate about these matters. And in addition to their Democratic commitments, they also made it clear that they would that they wanted the then new Hastings Center to examine age old fundamental philosophical questions about what it means to be a good society and about how we should live together. Dan died in the summer of twenty nineteen, and the clandestine family who have been involved with the Hastings Center for decades approached us about how they might support the center in a way that would best honor Dan. So the idea for this public program grew out of those important conversations, we are deeply indebted to the John and Patricia Clandestine Fund and the Andrew Angelically and Sting Family Foundation for their support. The title of today’s program is Advancing Social Justice, Health, Equity and Community. In twenty seventeen, Bruce Jennings and I published an essay in the Hastings Center report in which we called on bioethics to do more with regard to structural injustice. We noted that bioethics has always had justice as an important principle, but the too often and of course there are important exceptions, but too often bioethics scholarship has focused on fairness and procedures and resource allocation rather than on the power inequities that hold structural injustice and systemic racism in place. We called on our field to do more to examine those power differentials and their grip on the social determinants of health inequities. We didn’t know that covid-19 would travel the globe, making those long standing, intractable inequities painfully visible. We didn’t know that it would cause widespread, disproportionate suffering, especially to African-Americans, Latin and indigenous communities. Nor could we know the 20 20 would bring emboldened white supremacy, but also growing momentum for a racial reckoning not seen since the 1960s. This is an exquisitely difficult moment, the crossroads in which we now find ourselves is a moment not unlike the moment that Martin Luther King confronted in the 1960s when he called for, quote, a radical revolution of values and when he warned that we could not afford an anemic democracy.
And so it struck us here at the Hastings Center that perhaps this was the moment to return to King to explore how his thinking and experiences of the 1960 civil rights movement might help us make sense of today’s challenges. How values like dignity, solidarity and community that were so important to Martin Luther King might be useful to us now. To help us with those big questions, we are very fortunate to have Professor Patrick Smith of Duke University here with us today. Patrick is a colleague and a friend and one of the nation’s most thoughtful leaders whose work and experience sits at a very important intersection of bioethics, social ethics, black church studies and philosophical theology. Along with his appointment at the Divinity School, Professor Smith is an associate faculty member of the Center for Bioethics, Humanities and History of Medicine at Duke at the at the Duke School of Medicine. And before going to Duke, he was an associate professor at the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, which is where I met him. He was core faculty for the Master of Bioethics Degree program that’s offered by Harvard’s Center for Bioethics. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities and is the recipient of the twenty nineteen Paul Ramsay Award for Excellence in Bioethics. Patrick has both a master’s of divinity and a Ph.D. in philosophy, but he is a student and a product of the Black Baptist Church too, and an ordained clergy member. So it’s no wonder that he works to integrate black Baptist spiritual, theological and ethical resources for a public theology based in a robust social ethic. He is a particularly appropriate choice for the annual Daniel Callahan lecture because Dan was one of the few secular bioethicists who was comfortable inviting religious leaders into the conversation. I’ve asked Patrick to help us understand key concepts important to Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the 60s that might help us with the severe challenges our polarized nation faces today. He’s going to speak for about 20 minutes and then he and I will have the pleasure of a conversation you can listen in on and then we will open it to your questions. Please remember to put them into the Q&A function. Whenever you are so moved, you can put your questions there at any point. Patrick, thank you so much for joining us. I’m going to pass the baton to you.
All right, I guess that’ll get us going there, so thank you so much for that very warm and gracious introduction. It’s always a pleasure to be with you and always appreciate the times that we have to, as we say in my context, sometimes to chop it up. Also very grateful to the Hastings Center for this very special honor. Dan Callahans work was a person’s work who really impacted my thinking as I was cutting my teeth in the world of bioethics and also very thankful and grateful to the Klingon Stein Stein Foundation and Family Foundations for supporting this very important endeavor here. And also Mark Cartwell, Jodi Fernandez, Isabella Bollo, for your help. In terms of all the behind the scenes details, helping somebody like myself to get ready for such an important opportunity to be together here.
It is a it is sobering when we think about the alarming statistics around the claim that a significant indicator of health outcomes is based on zip codes. It is sobering for us to recognize the deep health and health care disparities and increased incidence of mortality that exists between communities divided along racial and socioeconomic lines. It’s sobering when we remind ourselves that behind these stark and personal statistics are very real people and very real communities to whom those of us working in these areas have very real responsibilities. When a pandemic strikes, it exacerbates these existing health and health care disparities. Public health crises such as covid-19 expose and expand the fault lines of communal life that have produced such harmful effects. Responsiveness to these matters cannot be held at bay until such crises have dissipated. Human well-being or flourishing requires a kind of holism. A holistic approach to health will require more than just the practice of medicine. To achieve, there needs to be a simultaneous devotion to addressing the larger social conditions that make it much more difficult for people to withstand public health disasters. Addressing these issues is arduous and long such that courage, patience and perseverance are needed. One political commentator I heard months ago described it as running a marathon through mud. There is a deep interconnection between people health and how we arrange our social and political life. Moreover, the kind of environment in which people live, move and have their being and how they existentially make sense out of all of this does impact overall health outcomes. Before his speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights during a 1966 press conference, Martin Luther King Jr. stated, Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death. As we are unfortunately aware, the immense challenges from global crises resulting from covid-19 are not merely ones of public health, but are simultaneously matters of social justice. I want to suggest that any ethical approach to mitigating the negative effects of pandemics and beyond must give detailed and sustained attention to those who are on the margins of society. Doing so, I think, requires us, or at least a larger number of us, to reaffirm commitments to traditional values from social ethics, namely commitments to human dignity, the common good solidarity and concrete material forms of justice. I am persuaded that these values can inform large scale responses by people of goodwill, both during the times of pandemics and certainly afterwards, these commitments necessarily resist social arrangements that facilitate racism. They resist arrangements that are involved in environmental degradation. They resist social arrangements that continue to facilitate the sustaining of involuntary concentrated poverty. Now, I know that these are very lofty ideals, yet I am convinced that ethics remains not only theoretical and practical, but also aspirational. And this is why the insights and commitments of social ethics are, in my case, religious social ethics, in the tradition of somebody like Martin Luther King and was often called the Afro-American Baptist prophetic tradition become essential in thinking about a way forward. It requires a reaffirmation of commitments to human dignity, working towards the common good forms of human solidarity that extend to the environment, and a vision of justice as an expression of what love looks like in public, all hallmarks of social ethics in general, which require a focus on those at the margins. So first, we need to be committed once again to the notion of dignity, the notion of dignity strongly affirms that people matter morally despite their skin to skin color, socioeconomic status, their limitations, whether it be physical or mental, and vulnerabilities that come along with being finite and embodied beings. The way I’m using the term here signifies that humans are to be valued for who they are as they are now. Of course, there’s a lot of philosophical debate as to the nature and notion of dignity and the ambiguity of dignity. But I also think that one can clarify what one means often by trying to articulate one’s terms while recognizing that there are still difficulties that remain. Nevertheless, this is why issues of racism is such an affront to human dignity. In fact, how people are viewed and treated precisely in the face of their human characteristics, even their limitations and the difficult circumstances that they find themselves in and their vulnerabilities is one of the most powerful means of affirming the value or dignity of all people. A commitment to human dignity provides the impetus for a corresponding commitment to the common good. So if human dignity concerns itself with the status of individual persons in society, the principle of the common good widens our focus to the status of the society. Social arrangements so shaped by policies, laws and practices matter with respect to promoting our stifling human flourishing. Now, perhaps in the discussion in the Q&A, we’ll talk a little bit more about this concept of race or racism. And I’ve look at race as a sociopolitical construct that has as kind of its impetus, a kind of white supremacy that drives a lot of the social and political ways of thinking and navigating our social life. And so, in contrast, the common good reflects the degree to which the social conditions enable individual members of a given society to flourish. So working for the common good, that means working against poverty. It means working against racism. Further commitments to human dignity and the common good requires that we continue to expand our moral universe into the realm of environmental concerns and ecological justice. And often neglected part of these conversations is the consideration of spiritual concerns, I guess, since Milley gave that very wonderful and comprehensive introduction, I guess I should say something spiritual. I guess it just stands to reason. In a space like this, we must attend to the spiritual. Again, I don’t necessarily mean here. The religious nations can also experience a pandemic of grief. The sudden and enormous loss of life, income, normal routine opportunities, rites of passages, among other things, can become existentially disorienting in times of pandemics. And with such significant loss, there may not be adequate time nor space to process all that is happening, hence possibly creating mental health challenges. For many people, attention to the spiritual dimension of our humanity reminds us that of the need for a kind of collective lament in order to process deeply felt grief and to cope with various kinds of suffering. I’m thinking particularly of the work of Dr. Emily Towns of Vanderbilt University, who has written quite extensively on this as a womanist ethicist. We need a kind of collective lament that is part of this move of advancing social justice, that holds a vision of justice front and center, is a reminder that things ought not be the way that they are, a time of reflection to evaluate and interrogate our fundamental commitments. Where have we failed individually? Where have we failed collectively as a society, as a community, a space in place to affirm a commitment to do something about it?
We cannot have. The significant.
Loss of life that we have experienced in the United States and not pause to take note, to take account of that fact, this broad dimension of human life should not be minimized, nor should the particular expressions of human religiosity that are based upon spirituality be disregarded when thinking about mitigating the negative effects of pandemics and the ongoing social conditions that will exist beyond these crises. Now, let me say for the record, in very clear terms, there has been much religious discourse in general that has upheld the exact opposite value, the exact opposite values of what I am describing here to many of us, unfortunately, are acquainted with these abuses of religion and the various theologies as they have been used to oppress instead of liberate. To stifle the efforts to mitigate the negative aspects of the public health crises that we’re in, and this cannot always be described as being a caricatured expression of these traditions, these realities cannot be downplayed or denied. They simply must be confronted and confronted by all of us commitments to human dignity and the common good involving knowledge in this complex feature of being human. This is especially so when these resources might provide symbols and themes and tropes to help communities reimagine notions of political justice for all. In addition, many in marginalized communities who disproportionately bear the burden of these disparities often rely on such resources in order to persevere and make sense out of the suffering they are experiencing. In the United States, for example, some African-American expressions of Christianity drawing from the justice oriented Jewish prophetic tradition have historically played a vital role in these efforts. These resources encourage African-Americans and other marginalized groups to be resolute in their attempts to cope with and challenge the fundamental dehumanizing depths of racism and its connections to negative psychosomatic health effects on their bodies and their communities. Is difficult for me to conceive of the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States, other black freedom movements that predated and its global impact without particular expressions of human religiosity as a form of spirituality in the service of a kind of justice, an exemplar of this tradition, Martin Luther King Jr. explicitly rooted his larger social vision of the beloved community in the idea of human dignity and the common good in order to firm up one’s sense of some bawdiness. His particular expression of religiosity in the form of African-American prophetic Christianity served as an inspiration and a counter perspective in the wake of questionable sociological and biological analyzes of the plight of black Americans in the United States. We also are going to need a recommitment, a reaffirmation to the notion of solidarity that leads towards justice, a recommitment, a reaffirmation of a kind of solidarity that leads towards justice and solidarity is a unity among people within a social organization to have a firm commitment to the common good of all people, especially to those on the margins. It is a realization that all inhabitants of this great world house are now and will continue to be neighbors brought into being largely as a result of the modern scientific and technological revolutions. Thus, people have obligations to work on behalf of one another. Solidarity is the realization that Martin Luther King Jr. admonished half a century ago that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality in this world. House King warned, as so many others have done, that together we must learn to live as neighbors or together we will be forced to perish is fools.
And so one of the questions I have to remind myself over and over again and remind folks who I’m in dialog with, do we really believe that the reality is, is that so many of us perhaps think that we can do without so many other people who make up part of the significant part of the human community?
What the solidarity require in mitigating the negative effects of pandemics and seeking to navigate the murky waters of a global pandemic, there must be clear and careful thinking about how decisions impact those on the margins of our society. Those who may be part of, as Howard Thurman said, the diminished, the disinherited and the disenfranchized or those whose backs are already against the wall. It is crucial to ask how might we address this pandemic while working hard to minimize the widening of existing disparities in our own society right now. Any responses to such a question or questions must take into consideration how policy decisions and implementation at all levels will impact the most vulnerable, including the sometimes overlooked first responders in our health care institutions and other frontline services who have an intensified occupational risk. Now, it is interesting, Kean’s commitment to the sanitation workers when he was dealing with questions of economic justice towards the end of his life, when they turn their efforts towards the poor people’s campaign is what broke Martin Luther King Jr. back to Memphis in April of 1968 when he was assassinated. The collective efforts of so many in this area brought together affirmations of human dignity, the common good and solidarity towards racial justice, economic and ecological justice when dealing with the sanitation workers strike. A commitment to solidarity requires both individual and communal introspection and action individually, as one social ethicist puts it, solidarity invites us to consider whether our own behaviors and mentalities demonstrate a concern with those on society’s margins. Communally, he says, solidarity challenges us to ask whether the social organizations of which we are apart strengthen the bonds of human friendship, especially the bonds between those with and those without sufficient resources. If our societies are not doing this well, then we must seek systemic changes as to how they might be improved in order to enable such relationships. The kind of solidarity called for here, which requires introspection leading to action, is not merely about technique. Religious social ethics keeps before our collective work the spiritual dynamics of our existential predicament, Martin Luther King Jr. articulated this well and he is worth quoting at length here. He said that every person lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external, King says. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live in. Large material powers spill in large peril if there is not a proportionate growth of the soul. Our hope for creative living in this world house that we have inherited lies in our ability to reestablish, he says. The moral ends of our lives in personal character and social justice. Without this spiritual and moral reawakening, we shall destroy ourselves in the misuse of our own instruments.
This deep work of character formation asking, expressed it of the soul is important for the work of social justice that is informed by a kind of social ethic, the kind of social ethic that King and many others in that tradition espoused. Widespread public health crises exacerbate problems of disparities between groups of people, thus undermining a notion of genuine solidarity. Pandemics like covid-19 signify challenges to health and human well-being, both in our physical bodies as well as in our body politic. In other words, they display the effects of an underlying sociopolitical pathology just as much as diseases like covid-19 present pathologically in people’s bodies. Pandemic ethics then must attend to both of these categories simultaneously, while recognizing that each is multifaceted. So all hands on deck so one can give a qualified affirmation to the widespread mantra surrounding the covid-19 pandemic that we are all in this together, it must be remembered, however, though it is not the case that we’re all in this together in the same way. When crises emerge, the long term health and economic impact for those who survive is often felt hardest by those who are already experiencing disparities in wealth, overall health outcomes and in access to and benefits of health care. All of this suggests that any pathway forward requires and must be attentive to concrete forms of material justice. The negative consequences of pandemic’s for all people in a society can be mitigated more effectively when people work collectively and together and through policy for more justice in their social arrangements by focusing on the margins during non pandemic times. The title of King’s last book is Where Do We Go From Here, Community or Chaos? In some ways, this is our question. Where do we go from here? Will we have the political and spiritual will necessary to move forward whatever direction we take? May we be committed to the dignity of those who are on the margins, stand in solidarity with them, work for their common good by advancing and advocating for material forms of concrete justice as we think ethically about mitigating these twin pandemics.
Some of you may know the name of Bill Jenkins or as his name was William Carter Jenkins, and those who knew him and worked with him called him Bill Jenkins. And I did not have the pleasure of meeting Bill Jenkins before he died just a year or so ago.
A year and a half ago, Bill Jenkins was an epidemiologist and an activist, and he was one of the first persons to blow the whistle on the U.S. government’s Tuskegee syphilis study. And he would often give a number of talks. And one of my colleagues mentioned to me not too long ago that he was often heard saying in all of his talks, something like this, he would ask a question, says, if you have ever wondered or want to know who you would have been in the 1960s, now is your time.
So I just leave us with this, now is our time. To lean in and to see how we can more effectively advance social justice, try to mitigate the negative effects of the health inequities that we see and build some semblance of community, even if it’s not perfect, we can do a little bit better than we’re doing right now. Thank you so much for your time.
Patrick, I feel like I need a moment of silence that was so moving and inspiring. It makes kinds of follow up questions. I want to ask you almost too specific, because MAID such a powerful, powerful statement. And I feel like almost like a moment of silence to absorb everything you’ve just said. Thank you. But I did prepare some questions. And so I want to I want to link to something you said kind of in the middle of the talk where you asked us to look at our own failings. You reminded us that the king asked us to look at our own failings. And it seems to me that one of our most important failings is that we’ve allowed such tremendous inequality in our society with globalization and other other things that were going on in the last 30 years. We’ve just been blind to the extreme inequalities and. Endemic poverty. For people of all races, and I think that’s made our society more vulnerable to demagogery and to authoritarian populism. So my question is, if if we’re aiming for solidarity for a we rather than an eye, some people have suggested that it would be less divisive to focus on poverty than on racialized identities. So I wonder what how King thought about the relationship between economic injustice and racial injustice and how you think about it.
Thank you so much, Millie, for as I’ve become accustomed to very penetrating and thoughtful and insightful questions here. And so I’ll do the best I can. So King King is going to vote for him. There are these kind of twin threats and they are triple threats and they is militarism issues of poverty and racism. Now, of course, King’s ethic was a holistic ethic that was geared towards, you know, all human beings. And one of the problems, I think, a misreading, a king or misinterpretation of King’s thinking that, you know, in some ways King would not want to focus on racism or issues that are specific to our policies, designed specifically for particular identity groups and so on and so forth. That’s a misunderstanding and a misreading of King. And it, I think, undermines the significance of what he was trying to say here. So I don’t think that first of all, I will say this when you think about kind of anti black racism as it developed in the United States that came along the transatlantically alongside the transatlantic slave trade. And so there was this connection of some called a racialized capitalism. So it was a notion of economic exploitation. And you got to be able to tell a story as to why you can treat human beings in such horrible ways. And so, again, this kind of racialized dynamic begins to emerge in terms of where many would suggest, Dorothy Roberts would say, that racism is what produced race in a particular way, this kind of understanding of hierarchical groupings of human beings, oftentimes based upon skin color. And so I do think that you always have to think about the economic issue alongside issues of racism, that they’re never far apart. However, we must be very careful not to reduce one to the other, as if addressing one automatically deals with the other. They do not.
There are too many instances of where the what I’ve called and many others have called the racialized imagination. This kind of way of thinking and being that has permeated every aspect of our public, private and civic life continues to impact relationships. So, for example, people who are maybe upper middle class, who are African-American or maybe even athletes who don’t find themselves in poverty, other people who have done very well, economically speaking, still can be dehumanized by the impact of racism, not only systemically, but also individually and interpersonally. And so for King, he would also say, yes, we have to work on economic issues for everyone. But that does not mean not attending to issues of racism and specifically focusing on racism when there needs to be that.
And I do fall in sync with that as well.
We have to do both. We have to do both. Interchangeable. They are. We need both. That was a very helpful answer. I’ve also, you know, as the Hastings Center has been doing more to focus on issues of systemic racism and structural injustice. I’ve been trying to educate myself and I’ve been really affected by the research that has shown that even as you just pointed out, even wealthy African-Americans are not only subject to racism and the indignities of racism, but also have a biological impact of racism, the effects of long term stress that can be measured and that are account for a shorter life span no matter your wealth. So I think that is the epidemiologic and the social epidemiology that’s come out has been really, really helpful in understanding the consequences of these kind of inequities. I want to enter a sensitive topic of reconciliation and reparation, and I start from a really personal place. You know my dad. Was enabled by the GI Bill to it was absolute door opener to his education, to his later profession and to a middle class life, and I and I understand that the GI Bill and he did all this on the GI Bill. I understand that the GI Bill was not was explicitly excluded. African-American soldiers returning from the Second World War. And other critical policies that can’t account for the tremendous difference in intergenerational wealth in white families, in black families, so the G.I. Bill is one example. Another one is the redlining that prevented home mortgages for so long. And even though that may not be the case anymore, it’s had intergenerational effects because home ownership is one of the major ways in which families pass on wealth across generations. So in the light of all that, I’m wondering. Where you come out on the issue of reconciliation and reparations, you know that some of stinted seemingly.
But Dr. Solomon. Yeah, this is I mean, this is important for people to understand that there is this large scale impact that permeates every aspect of the way that we do live together. And the effects of the racialized imagination are intergenerational on so many fronts in terms of health economics, right. One’s future well-being and so on and so forth. And so what we have to always be mindful of is this idea. When you think about something like the GI Bill, as you were speaking autobiographically there when African-Americans were coming back trying to apply for the GI Bill being systematically cut out of those benefits, the GI Bill generated instantaneous middle class for so many people, allowing home ownership, allowing people to pay for education and also to accumulate wealth in order to put the other generation, the next generation, to continue on in some of those legacies. And when you have black people who are systematically excluded from that, to come home to fight, put their lives on the line for democracy that never fully included them, for them to come back and then be excluded from the opportunity to benefit from these resources so that they can have a grounding and a footing so that they can flourish. That’s insidious, right? Many of us will look at that as just being fundamentally evil and being here’s the problem, because we live in a well, let’s just say I think that there is a deep sense of neoliberal a kind of economic philosophy that sometimes permeates the way we see and think about the world such that everything can be commodified in particular ways. And so then we see people who are struggling economically. We associate virtue with economic prosperity and success, and we associate vice with issues of poverty or those who are not doing as well economically. And so then you have this this eerie kind of value judgment that’s being introduced into this mix. And you have families looking at other families and saying, well, why didn’t your parents and grandparents love you as much as our parents loved us who provide it for us in these kinds of ways? And again, these circles continue over and over again. One of the and this is where this is. We can go back and check the record. Right. That were federal policies like that in terms of redlining and housing that excluded.
The language was there that excluded black people from getting loans to get the financing that they need to move and to build and accumulate that wealth.
And here’s the thing with racialized imagination. Just because you remove the language from the law does not mean that you will necessarily remove the practices that were based on that law. And so we have to continue to work against this and struggle. I’ve had students in my class whose parents worked at financial institutions, banking institutions to in as late as twenty, sixteen, twenty, seventeen. Still, some of these practices are in place right now. So we still have a lot of work to do in housing. Not only touches on the economic issues, but as you know, I’ll say this and we’ll move on. Housing also touches on the question of of health right where we live, the access that we have to health care, the recognition that those property tax dollars go to providing for the schools where a lot of our young people need to attend. A lot of social scientists have looked at this pipeline between the in terms of the school to prison pipeline that are under-resourced is so it’s just insidious in its tentacles stretch so much. So we have to attend to these issues if we want to advance social justice.
I’m so glad that you brought in the way in which we conflate economic wealth with virtue. I think that is almost an unconscious permeating part of our culture that we think somehow, if you haven’t demonstrated economic self-sufficiency, that there’s a character flaw or a virtue flaw. Thank you for bringing that up. I know we have many good questions from the group. So I’m going to turn to Isabel. She’s been watching the questions and she’s going to share some of those with us right now.
Yes, we have so many excellent questions, and I think the overwhelming sentiment is just that people are grateful for for your really powerful words and for sharing these traditions with us and with the whole audience. So I think what are the most prevalent things we have is people asking about solidarity, particularly in the incredibly polarized time that we find ourselves. And a lot of folks on the call are really worried about solidarity. There are some people saying and a sentiment that has been repeated often so many people voted for systemic racism in the last election, so many people read different news sources and don’t have mutual respect for one another. Do you have any suggestions or ideas for how we might think about building solidarity, building mutual respect across these types of divides?
Yeah. Thank you so much.
Isabel, for that that question and just for those who are in the audience listening to this, just know that I struggle with this as well.
I think is necessary and important because I don’t understand how you go forth and social justice without some notion of solidarity. So for me, it seems as if that is just part of the work that we have to do right. In some way such that we can’t just do away with it. Now, having said that, this does not mean and I try to say this is very clearly as I can, this does not mean that we shouldn’t push for just policies, are they? People continue to resist that. We have to have a broad consensus of everybody agreeing, holding hands and singing Kumbaya before you begin to move forward doing these issues. Not at all. Right. The whole idea of focusing on those at the margins is really pushing and speaking and trying to push a way forward that brings in or enfranchise the disenfranchized in that sense. So having said all of this, this notion of solidarity, I just think it’s going to be important for how we think about collective life together. One of the things because I do think that we have to have a kind of power, right. Political power and economic power and power in and of itself is not a bad thing. Power is just the ability to be able to just do stuff. Right. But what we I think what I’m concerned about and what many others are concerned about as well, that are we just going to be an endless kind of power struggles right where we’ve got the power now we wrest the power from you. You hurt us. We hurt you. Right. And then the next time we’ll wrestle the power away. You hurt us and we will hurt you. In some ways, this is the way our collective life is playing out. And at some point you have to ask yourself is, is this the way that we’re supposed to do life together? So I think we should push our policies. We should push our ways of seeing the world. We should call out systemic injustice where we see it and when we see it. And solidarity is going to be, I think, this kind of broader commitment. That doesn’t necessarily mean a kind of consensus right before we kind of move forward. And just for the record, I struggle with this as well. The whole issue of solidarity is this notion just a kind of inescapable network of mutuality is trying to acknowledge something that we can’t escape.
We’re together whether we like it or not.
And so the question is, what are we going to do with that? And so we do press on. We bear witness the best that we can. We try to do the best that we can while resisting injustice when we see it in groups to do what we can. At least I would say for me and for those who are kind of share a similar ethic to resist hate coming in because hate dehumanizes the person. Right. And this is where we need to resist with every fiber of our being not to be dehumanized in our hating the other in our attempt to resist evil and redirect our systems for Kaiserslautern.
I share my sentiment that that’s you speak so eloquently, it’s hard to come up with follow up questions.
But our audience, one thing I’ve read I’ve noticed through our webinars is that we have a segment of the audience who’s really interested in the fabric and the role of religious institutions in building community and helping establish solidarity. So I’ll put a couple of questions that I’m seeing related to the role of religious institutions. One is how to encourage cross talk and neutral work across different religions, so across churches and mosques and in a variety of different religious locations. And another one is more specifically concerned about the church and is interested in given everything that’s gone on over the past year, given how it affected certain communities really disproportionately, how can the church foster space for lament and lament as kind of a way to encourage spiritual health, mental health and just general well-being? What would it look like to create space for that as a discipline as opposed to kind of an acknowledgment?
You know, great questions. And it’s interesting, I apologize to one of these questions that kind of lost track of she was asking about the reparations, reconciliation. And you’re asking your question a trigger that I. So let me just say a word about that as I go into this, because I think it’s related. So for me, I want to say that when we identify those kind of problems, those areas of injustice, that I have a hard time talking about reconciliation.
If we cannot talk about repair at the same time. Right. I don’t think we can get to reconciliation without reparation. Now, the nature of the reparations are those what we do to repair that which has been broken. That’s a huge debate. We’ve got to wrestle with that figure, those things out. But we cannot have reconciliation without reparation. I’m a firm believer in that. And I having a hard time believing that I actually forgot to come back full circle on this question on that. And so in light of of the questions that you’ve just asked, so for me, what I want to suggest in 14 is kind of way of thinking about the world. He was going to want to exercise a kind of hospitality. Right, that sees his presence and his community’s presence as both guest and host. Right. Kind of in the world navigating the world. So there is a kind of what some would call an ecumenical spirit that says, hey, look, other people, other communities oftentimes, though not always oftentimes want the same things that people in my community want religious traditions.
Right. I have learned so much from Jewish scholars and other followers of Judaism and some of their writings.
And how much of African-American kind of religious social ethics is indebted to some of that work? And I think I would be impoverished if I did not have friends who were part of those traditions, who leaned into the cultural ethos as a way of embodying what they understood about the world. I have many friends of mine who gravitate towards kind of Buddhist philosophical thought. Right, and meditative practices. I learn a lot from them. They have a heart and a desire to see the world in a different way, even if we don’t name it in the same way or agree with all the details, there’s still this particular move. And so King and one of his essays called Black Power Define Right.
He talks about the importance of linking together with people and organizations who are like minded in a way who want to see flourishing life become more of a reality, even if not in its fullness, but more of reality and making sure that there are connections that are being made in terms of common social action. So for that first part, I would want us at least I would hope that there would be this general kind of spirit, kind of ecumenical spirit to to want to come together and recognize that we’re all in this kind of boat together.
For the second part of the question, if I understand correctly, with the church and creating space and practices of what does this look like? So I do think that at least in my own kind of religious tradition, that churches at this communal level can play a role in this. And also denominations are bodies of, you know, congregation might be able to come together for the express purposes of saying, hey, we need to come together. We need to acknowledge that there is evil in our midst. We need to recognize that we can’t detach ourselves from the world in which we live. And the complicity that we may have, even if I didn’t do something directly or I think I didn’t do something directly to someone, there is still a kind of complicity that’s involved coming together, acknowledging that kind of having, as some would say, a confession. Right. And doesn’t doesn’t have to be in his religious full context. But just confessing that I look, you know what? We’ve blown this, right? This notion of kind of a turning a change of mind to say we can do better. Can we go in a different direction? It’s an acknowledgment, again, of our finitude and the limitations. So what that could look like in practice, coming together in a particular space. Right. And collectively to do this and to cry out, write to one another also in their practices, to talk about a vision, a kind of a moral or ethical vision of a life that is better than what we have now reminding people of that vision right in that space where you can bare your soul, that could be cathartic in some way, be encouraged, then go out to act.
And so I think churches or other faith communities can kind of do that locally, maybe even, you know, in a national way. But then what happens? So we have this phrase in our tradition called bearing witness that then there’s the idea that you just have to collectively in your bodies, bear witness to what you say you believe about the world and that’s advancing social justice. That means putting one’s body on the line. And so this could be a way of modeling. I think these, you know, spiritual practices, these themes that emerge. But anyway and again, whether or not it’s widespread, like you have this national movement, those things are really hard, probably not in its fullness.
But I do think some recognition of how it plays out in particular faith communities could be good for our national political soul, so to speak, going forward.
And if we have time for one more kind of quick question, what you just said was so hopeful to me and I’m sure many of our audience agree.
I think one other sector of folks who are looking for something hopeful and tangible to think about and to work on is our health care providers. So we have a couple of health care providers in the community who are just wanting to know what can they do in their daily interactions with patients, with clients to advance social justice, to live out Dr. King’s teachings and to really kind of promote the well-being of everyone.
Yeah, this is a question that I think in. Well, I’ve had conversations with others in different settings where it’s just health care professionals and trying to be a little more focused on maybe the way you think about clinical encounters or organizational kinds of set up and ethics. And so let me just give some broad a couple of broad contours, because if I were in conversation dialog with the particular individuals who are asking the question, we would probably kind of dig a little deeper and just see what’s around you and what’s your context, and then try to figure out particular ways that one can lean in. But what I would say is this first, I think we have to learn and understand and deeply appreciate the history of racism in this country, in the United States, because health care is just a microcosm of the larger social world in which we inhabit. And we have to understand how a lot of our social patterns and practices have been influenced by the racialized imagination. And so when we are coming to our judgments with regard to clinical encounters, we have to be aware that many of those judgments not only have been shaped by our, you know, very robust professional medical training, but we’ve also been socialized in different ways, no matter how open we think we we are all of us. Right. Because racism is something that can be internalized.
People of color as well can internalize white supremacy just as much as other people can also. Right. And so to be aware of that and to be able to put the kind of mitigating efforts in right. To kind of checks and balances one to understand that the effects of racism are not just individual or interpersonal right. That these larger systemic dimensions and then begin to look at the way your hospital or your department goes about its daily work and ask yourself, can we identify where the racialized imagination may be at work in this moment? So for many years I worked on ethics committees and it was fascinating out here when the narrative so any story that we tell or any narrative that we give, we’re already making evaluative judgments. Right? We’re already making ethical decisions and how we tell the story. And it’s interesting to me that I noticed a lot of times there would be no mention of a person’s race or ethnicity until it gets to the patient oftentimes who’s a person of color right before the problem is identified. Right. So apparently no one else is racialized except just the patient. Right. And just being attentive to looking at that or asking ourselves questions, why are we having so many issues in this particular area, then checking the policy and seeing how has this been shaped in different ways? So I think attending to those particular spaces and then three, I would just say I think it’s important for those who are medical professionals, given the stature that they have in our larger society, given the public trust that has been given to them, at least in some some sectors. Right. That they have a responsibility to help all of us reimagine what health care can look like. Right. To really reimagine to ask ourselves the question, if we can mitigate some of these negative health outcomes by dealing with some things upstream as opposed to trying to get bodies, you know, out of the water, if we can figure out ways to kind of put a dam right upstream to kind of keep all of this stuff from happening. Then are you using those resources and your clout, your privileges and your position in that direction to try to seek a change with respect to the way we dole out health care, especially if we have data suggest that doing so will improve health outcomes. So those just kind of three ways. Izabella, I’ll just not stop there knowing that many others who are listening in on this space would have much more concrete ways of thinking about that.
But there it is, Izabel we have one minute for one last question with a brief answer, and then I’m going to you that that is a wonderful way to think about it.
So I think if we have such little time, I would just ask the follow up question, which is something that many people I think are thinking about right now that I’ve seen a couple of times in the Q&A, which is, you know, what specific lessons for the vaccine effort can we take away from your framework? And that might be from people who are in public health, but it also might just be from providers who are seeing patients in a non vaccine related context. How can just your average primary care provider help support that effort and help support its dissemination to the communities who need it most? You know, we’ve seen the numbers and it’s distressing how vaccines aren’t being necessarily distributed to all the right communities as much as you would hope.
Yeah, yeah. Here again, this is where the solidarity issue comes in. I know that there are a number of groups who are community liaisons, community leaders who are trying to get the messaging out, bringing in very knowledgeable public health professionals, also others who are doing work with the vaccination efforts, who also know the various communities. Right. Which is a big deal, who know those communities and who have some, for lack of a better way of putting its skin in the game, partnering in that sense to do the proper kind of messaging of thinking about the science in the data. So I do think figuring out who’s doing that work in those communities coming together will become extremely important, going the extra mile to be able to figure out who those individuals are and connecting with them. But then also looking in and trying to ask yourself, can you set up shop right or do something creative in these particular spaces where people are, you know, obviously we know the issues of where to be transportation and so on, so forth. But a lot of this comes down to, I think, issues of trust. And so others are, I think, wrestling with this and thinking about that.
But I think what the takeaway for what we have talked about today is simply that these are the questions that we need to ask and then do all that we can to implement and not take the status quo to be necessary for the way that we think about doing life together.
Patrick, I want to thank you so much. You’ve just been incredibly articulate and inspiring. You’ve talked about themes from Martin Luther King Jr. and how they’re relevant today. And you’ve been moving towards this question of how can we reimagine our life together with reference to King’s last book, where do we go from here? Chaos or Community? I’m hoping that this conversation will help us work against chaos and toward community. Thank you so very, very much.
Thank you for having me.
And thank you, everyone, for joining us as a reminder, a recording of this webinar will be available on the Easting Center’s website later today. Dr. Smith, we’ve gotten so many praises for for your discussion and requests for your slides as well. So we might have to try to see if we can put those up as well. But thank you, everyone, for joining us and have a wonderful day.