A Black Man's Lament

July 14, 2020

The recent ghastly killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd serve as a reminder that the pursuit of happiness and longevity remain a dream deferred for Black America due to systemic racism.

COMMENTARY

The words, “You already have 3 strikes against you,” spoken by my mother during childhood periodically echo in my thoughts. She was preparing me for the goliaths that I would need to defeat on my path to becoming a physician because of my worn identity: a black male. She equipped me with tools that would allow me to “flourish” in a world that would ostensibly welcome me to the table of communion singing the popular refrain, “All lives matter.” However, I have realized over the years that the bread and wine we ingest at this table is fraught with internal deception. The table invites the black man to share his concerns, but we must be pristine in our vernacular and our delivery. We must avoid any perception that we are intending to inflict moral injury to the egos of the majority. We must adapt to an environment that attempts to silence our voices and knees of advocacy. We are contemporary slaves, irrespective of our educational attainment and shackled by an unjust criminal justice system, white privilege, and a national administration who uses racially charged language.

The recent ghastly killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have taken an emotional toll on my heart. Their deaths remind me that the pursuit of happiness and longevity remain a dream deferred for Black America due to systemic racism. It is a constant reminder of the invalidation I feel when white America is offended by the term white privilege. It is a constant reminder that Frank Clark, a young, intelligent, gifted, black male physician could be the next to say, “I can’t breathe.”

As I reflect on the current state of our country and the deafening silence by some who claim to be our allies, I harken back to the following statement made by civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King Jr during his stent in the Birmingham jail. King wrote:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’

Unfortunately, King’s words still ring true in 2020, which should prompt a call to action. I believe that our country can rise from the pits of hate and white supremacy that have plagued our country for hundreds of years. This requires humility, transparency, and authenticity. Therefore, I am asking my white brothers and sisters—and those of all races—to join me in the choir that is yearning for voices to collaborate in this fight toward justice and equity. I am asking you to come out of your ivory towers of privilege and partner with me. Only then can we abolish the injustices of this world and shower one another with love.

Dr Clark is Clinical Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Greenville, SC, and Medical Director & Division Chief for Adult Inpatient and Consult-Liaison Services for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Prisma Health.❒

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of his employer, university, or Psychiatric Times. This article was originally published on June 16, 2020, and has since been updated. -Ed

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