By Eding Mvilongo, MScE, MD, FRCPC for Yoga Medicine®.
It all started last week.
After over 10 weeks of intense work on the COVID-19 healthcare frontline, I had the most perfect vacation days planned: sleeping, gardening, cleaning, catching up on life. Then I read about Christian Cooper’s story.
Growing up a minority in a mostly Caucasian world has been anything but easy. And even as an adult, things remain hard. But if there’s one thing that you learn very early on, it’s to develop a thick shell so that the constant micro-aggressions don’t destroy you. You keep going and you work harder, a smile plastered on your face so as to not make others around you feel uncomfortable. Resiliency is key for survival. Period.
The incident implicating Christian Cooper highlights perfectly how society still has some major racial problems. I had become complacent in assuming that, in 2020 North America, people finally had enough knowledge and critical thinking skills to evolve from believing everything “the system” had been feeding them for the past 400 years. This story triggers me to the highest level, making me ask what would have happened to Christian Cooper ( or any other Black man, in this instance) if the encounter hadn’t been recorded… Soon thereafter, the George Floyd murder took place. All 8:46 minutes of it recorded for the world to witness. To me, it was incomprehensibly brutal, vicious, senseless and filled with hatred. And it made me realize that the use of the expression African-American to characterize a Black person in North America is completely erroneous: Black lives obviously are not being considered when we speak of North American lives…
Instead of all my carefully crafted plans, I spent my last week reflecting on this realization and its implications, rehashing traumatic memories I had buried so deeply within myself. The process made me both scared and angry. Could one layer of different color skin cells really determine one’s fate at the hands of a stranger or the law? What makes it so inconceivably difficult to understand that we’re all equal? I have thought about all the instances Black community leaders have tried, over the past decades, to reach out and educate officials and the population about culture bias. All the times I’ve also reached out to friends and strangers alike to share my experiences and sensitize them on racist issues. My conclusion: IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP. We no longer have a choice. We all need to pitch in. Now is the time to push for the change we NEED to see. It’s now or never. These horrific stories must stop. Now. Systemic racism is a global health emergency of pandemic proportions; it has to be addressed the same way we’re addressing the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Black lives are lost now, and more will follow if racism is left unchecked. This will be a lengthy process, but we’re all in it for the long haul. Resiliency is key, so let’s make this uncomfortable work bearable by working together. It is our duty to make Black lives North American lives that matter. Observe, listen, educate yourselves and your peers, vote for that change and most importantly: speak up when it’s time!