No one wants to make mistakes. It is a humbling experience. It is healing to admit it.
It was brought to my attention by a patient of mine that I have hurt the Native American community. It wasn’t my intent to hurt anyone, but that is what happened and that is what matters. I would like to address that previous column, “The trouble with tying all police shootings to racism.”
First, I acknowledge the harms caused by racist power structures in medicine, our justice system, and daily life. On this, my second attempt, I want to be crystal clear. I believe systemic racism was at play in Stonechild Chiefsticks’ death. And, when I said, “Is such a significant racial discrepancy due entirely to police officers being racist? In a word. No,” I wanted to express that this problem is much larger than one officer-involved shooting.
Battling organized racism has never been about a single person or one moment in time—it is about exploring deeply ingrained beliefs each of us hold about those individuals who we see as different from ourselves. Outcome disparities due to race are not limited to the healthcare arena; they affect our education system, justice system, law enforcement, social media and everyday life. While this death, and countless others, was extrajudicial and tragic, focusing solely on the officer who pulled the trigger does not solve the larger, widespread problem at hand.
In fact, Reverend Jessica Star Rockers said it perfectly in the Kitsap Sun on November 18 when she wrote, “Chiefsticks’ death is the result of a much deeper issue than the skin color of the officer who killed him. It is the result of a justice system that values white bodies over bodies of color.” I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiment. Unfortunately, I failed to convey this important message.
My purpose in writing op-ed columns for the Kitsap Sun has been to stimulate meaningful conversation viewed through the lens of healthcare on the front lines, where I spend most of my days. Writing has partly been about finding my voice, as a mother to four children, as the daughter of an Iraqi-immigrant father and an Irish Catholic mother, and as a pediatrician practicing in the town where I was born and raised. Tackling controversial subjects in this column has also been about consenting to learn in front of all of you who read it, and apologizing publicly for missteps along the way.
Until a few years ago, I incorrectly believed racism was not as prevalent in Kitsap County as it was everywhere else. Over that time, I have witnessed racial discrimination firsthand, professionally and personally. And recent news reports have continued to prove how wrong I was. Numerous patients of color have shared alarming stories of facing blatant racial and gender-biased treatment right here in our community.
Elie Wiesel, an author I greatly admire, wrote “Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.” While many see this topic as unrelated to my scope of practice as a physician and healthcare columnist, to me, racial bias and discrimination transcends the boundaries of healthcare because it harms people irrespective to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, gender, or sexual orientation.
I do not regret tackling the subject of racism—we need to be talking about it, and I wanted to use my voice and my platform to do so. For me, this place where our community is right now should become the center of the universe.
And to that end, I acknowledge my failed attempt to spark a critical discussion about race. I realize my intended message was muddy and read as an anti-Native dog whistle by implying that I was choosing to ignore the effect of racism in Kitsap County. I would like our community to talk about racism and its negative effects—ad nauseum—so we can do better. I would like to see Stonechild Chiefsticks’ death bring about meaningful systematic change in how our community addresses cultural and racial differences. I would like to see local organizations build bridges of understanding between one another.
In closing, I acknowledge that the impact of my column was harmful to the Native American community. For that, I am deeply sorry. I can do better in the future when writing about controversial subjects—for the purpose of sparking meaningful community debate–by bringing more clarity to both sides.
Finally, I am grateful to my patient, Elizabeth Montez-Giras, who held me accountable, as my patients often do. It is with her encouragement that I have returned to this divisive topic one more time.