Now Is The Time For Physicians To Take A Stand

Our professional oath requires a special obligation to all of our fellow human beings.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks are the latest in a long line of Black American lives cut short.

The public outcry and awakening consciousness spreading across the nation over the last several weeks flows from these recent reminders of the American legacy of racism that has never been adequately addressed.

We are at a tipping point that cannot and should not be ignored. Now is the moment to take a stand.

Racism is a complex disease that our nation and the entire world has not yet properly diagnosed and treated. Police brutality along racial dynamics is merely a symptom of a racial virus that has infected and permeated every aspect of American society, not just law enforcement. This virus has a multi-system impact in the form of discrimination in housing, education, employment opportunities, and disproportionate involvement in the criminal justice system.

Structurally racist policies and programs in our society are associated with higher rates of physical illness, mental health issues, and decreased life expectancy. As physicians, we cannot effectively address racially based inequities in health and health care if we are not committed to identifying and combating racism and discrimination.

This is our kuleana. The foundation of our professional credibility is based on ensuring that every person, no matter their skin color, race, or ethnicity, is respected and valued.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., marches with a contingent from Hawaii during the historic Selma marches in 1965.

Through our professional oath, we have a special obligation to all of our fellow human beings. We must stand now, united in solidarity with our Black American brothers and sisters and others who have been marginalized in the health care system, the criminal justice system, and society.

We must recognize our responsibility as leaders to step up and speak out to address this public health emergency. We cannot be silent.

In these turbulent times, we should remember the words of the beloved Reverend Abraham Akaka who spoke about the spirit of aloha. In the Hawaii Statehood Sermon, he explained that “Aloha is the power of God seeking to unite what is separated in the world — the power that unites heart with heart, soul with soul, life with life, culture with culture, race with race, nation with nation. Aloha is the power that can reunite when a quarrel has brought separation … It is the unconditional desire to promote the true good of other people in a friendly spirit, out of a sense of kinship. Aloha seeks to do good, with no conditions attached … A person who has the spirit of Aloha loves even when the love is not returned. And such is the love of God. This is the meaning of Aloha.”

The spirit of aloha has been present in the civil rights movement since its inception. In 1965, a contingent from Hawaii traveled to Alabama to join the march from Selma to the capitol building in Montgomery to demonstrate for the free exercise of Black American citizens’ constitutional right to vote. Reverend Akaka sent a beautiful assortment of lei with the contingent for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The two reverends had developed a friendship over the years bound by their mutual belief in nonviolence and leading peaceful protest to drive social justice. Hawaii’s participants presented the lei to Dr. King and others in his group of advisors to wear on the long march ahead.

‘In The Same Boat’

The spirit of aloha is as relevant today as it was in 1965. The struggle and movement for human and civil rights has not receded into the distance behind us. All of us are affected today by the presence of stigma, inequality and injustice in our communities. In his letter from the Birmingham jail in 1963, Dr. King reminded us that:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Now is the time to act, to step up, and take a stand. From the jail cell in Birmingham, Dr. King urged that, “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

Stand with us for equality, equity, justice, and the health of our nation.

Love is the prime mover. Together, we will rise.

Michael K. Champion, M.D. President of the Hawaii Medical Association.

The Voice of One,
The Strength of Many.