The healthcare industry has a long and well-documented history of racist treatment of Black and Indigenous people. Now, doctors join the movement for Black lives.


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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Kim Brown. In the weeks since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there have been daily sustained protests across the country advocating for the equality and liberation of vulnerable and marginalized communities, particularly that of Black people. One such protest came from the medical community. If you search the hashtag White Coats For Black Lives, what you’ll find is a smattering of media, ranging from videos to photos, to outright statements acknowledging and yet decrying racism that exists within the medical field with statements and pledges to do better and help to alleviate this issue. Joining us today to discuss this is Randi Abramson, M.D. She is the Chief Medical Officer for an organization in Washington, D.C. called Bread For The City, where their mission is to help low-income district residents empower their communities through various means of aid. Dr. Abramson joins us today from Washington D.C. Thank you so much for being here.

Randi Abramson: Sure. Thanks for having me.

Kim Brown: Dr. Abramson, if you could briefly describe what White Coats For Black Lives is and why this aspect of the movement was something that you wanted to be involved in.

Randi Abramson: This Bread For the City, the organization where I work, feels passionately about bringing the work that we do and my specific work in a healthcare field as saying that we need to do this through a racial lens. So we need to look at healthcare and really look at all the work that we do and make sure that we’re focused on providing care in a different way than it’s been provided in the past. And this is an ongoing conversation that we’ve had but this just felt like a moment when all the nation came together after the incident with George Floyd where we said, “This has to stop. This is where we all need to not do business as usual but really take a stand.”

Kim Brown: So when we talk about protests, and as we have seen thousands of people, really, probably millions by this point have been taking to the streets and cities all across America. And thankfully some of the healthcare data has indicated that there has not been an increase in COVID-19 as a result of these protests. What are your thoughts about protesting during a pandemic because that’s something that you’ve been doing yourself?

Randi Abramson: So I think protesting during a pandemic when the need is there to protest and doing it in a different way and in a safe way is the right thing to do. We could not, not do this. We could not just go back to business as usual in a busy clinic trying to provide our care but we had to take a moment to step outside of our walls onto that Seventh Street, a fairly busy street going North-South in Washington, D.C, and stop the traffic saying, “We’re taking a moment. You all, community in this city, needs to stop and take a moment to think about what’s happening and how we can do things differently.”

Kim Brown: Let’s talk about the role that race has played in the pandemic in the spread of COVID-19 or rather the people that have been most impacted by this virus. Hospitalizations and deaths have overwhelmingly been Black Americans and Black people, even disproportionate to the amount that this community takes up for population. And we know that there have been a longstanding gates or challenges in place for Black Americans in either having access to adequate healthcare or getting adequate screenings for pre-existing conditions. Why has COVID jumped on Black people in such a vicious way, in your opinion?

Randi Abramson: It feels like it’s this kind of merging of all these different things of what you just described, of health indicators and health indices being what they are, from centuries of oppression, where they are living in the crowded conditions, and also being on the frontline workers, who is asked to not shelter in place. And that was the first thing that we were told to do was stay home. If you can keep working from home but shelter in place. But actually our says you can’t, and we’re asking people to step forward who are on the checkout lines of the groceries, who are driving the buses, who are making the city run, I think the country run. And those are people of color and we’ve asked them to step up. So they are stepping out into the streets and out into the community, not being able to shelter. Their housing situation often is more crowded and there’s more contact with people, both at home and in the workplace. As well as hundreds of years of oppression that creates a less healthy world, a less healthy person.

Kim Brown: You talk about the hundreds of years of oppression and we know that there are longstanding mistrusts with the Black community towards the medical community, and we can cite a variety of historical events, including the Tuskegee experiments and I’m also thinking about Henrietta Lacks out of Baltimore City. Black people are sometimes reluctant to get medical help or seek medical attention because of these mistrusts, which are certainly grounded in historical fact. What can medical providers in 2020 do to overcome that huge hurdle of distrust and stigma in order to gain access or even seek out the medical help that they need and the communities need?

Randi Abramson: So one example would be just the COVID testing that we do right after our protest’s done at 12:30. Then at one o’clock, we open up for COVID testing. This is clearly a call from the community saying, “We need to get tested. We need to know our status.” And we have this very low barrier testing. So you can self identify that you need to be tested or want to be tested. You don’t have to get a referral from somebody else. There’s no barriers. There’s no question asked about eligibility. Where do you live? Do you have health insurance? Did you get a referral from somebody? You could self identify and in a respectful way I trust you that you’ve identified because you feel for some reason you need to be tested. Therefore, you should trust me that I’m going to provide that test in a very non-judgmental way and we do the test and give you the call back and the education that you need,

Kim Brown: Since this latest round of uprisings and protest movements across the U.S. we’ve seen a handful of municipalities, the governing legislative body of a given town decry that racism is a public health crisis. What is your take on that? And what can be done to address that from a policy perspective, in your opinion, Doctor?

Randi Abramson: Yeah, so I think it is a public health crisis. It’s everywhere. It’s infectious. It’s what you touch and how you do something. And I think that’s all the way the system has evolved in this very racist way has just been amplified here. So I think what we need to do is take a step back. We need to really think about who’s going into healthcare. How were the healthcare students being educated, in what way, and in what manner? What does respectful people look like in a different way? Who has the power in that exam room and in the decision making? It cannot be this hierarchical top down kind of place. It needs to be a power sharing support that works, that I have some resources, I have some knowledge, you know yourself the best, and how do we find your health the easiest? How do you find what you define as healthy and how do I help you get there?

Kim Brown: And Doctor, you practice in Washington D.C., Which is a very interesting place. For a long time, D.C. has been known as Chocolate City with a majority African American population, but over the past decade or so that has changed significantly and really you have a tale of two cities where there are a lot of newer White residents coming in who have higher income but yet the longterm African American residents who have been there for generations find themselves on the lower income scale and even experiencing violence through the form of gentrification where they have been displaced from their family homes and neighborhoods where they have been for many, many decades been in Washington and seeing this tale of two cities through the race of lens. What are your observations about how gentrification is also harming black people from a health perspective and what can we do to better, I guess, even out those metrics some?

Randi Abramson: Yeah, I think that when you hae the White population, as you described really well, this well educated, affluent White population moving in and displacing people of color, we have to not let that happen. We have to say that there has to be a respect for the community and respect for who’s there, the sharing of the resources, and not necessarily because I’m bringing in my own resources I’m going to not respect and I’m going to move your resources and you out. And I think that it’s interesting because we have been in this building that we’re in now since the 90s, and this was a place that has greatly gentrified over the last decade. Just shocking before your eyes. And we have said, “We’re not going anywhere and the patients and the clients who need services, who are mostly people of color, are not going anywhere and they are very welcome on the street and we’re going to have to learn how to get along when you bring in your different businesses.”

A really great example I thought was we have, if you’re found drinking on the street then people were calling the cops and calling this crime or calling this loitering and calling this whatever and trying to lock people up and grab people who were just on the street hanging out with some friends drinking. But then all of a sudden they put a little beer garden on the corner and suddenly that’s legitimate and those people can sit on the corner and drink with their friends and they don’t get thrown out. And it’s like, this kind of thing cannot exist together. We need to understand the way you want to get with your friends and the way I want to get with my friends, we both have a right to do it in a respectful way and so nobody should get thrown out.

Kim Brown: You just reminded me of the “Don’t mute D.C.” Campaign where newer district residents were complaining about …

Randi Abramson: The go-go music.

Kim Brown: … the go-go music being played right there on Seventh and Florida Avenue, which is right around the corner from where Bread For The City is.

Randi Abramson: Yes.

Kim Brown: So I know a lot of people can relate to what you’re talking about. But lastly, Doctor, I know we got to let you go because you’re headed out the door for today’s protests. How can people follow the White Coats for Black Lives protest that have been happening daily, as you mentioned, stopping traffic on Seventh street in the nation’s capital? How can we follow this?

Randi Abramson: So we can go to the Twitter site for our advocacy at Bread For The City, and everyone should just stop in their own community, in their own street, in their own place of business, in their own home, and stop what’s happening. Reach out to neighbors, reach out to your local businesses that are right on your street and say, “We need to do things differently.” So I think it’s all of us have to take this on ourselves and not just follow or watch fro a distance.

Kim Brown: We’ve been speaking with Dr. Randi Abramson. She is the Chief Medical Officer for the organization Bread For the City based in Washington, D.C. And we’ve been discussing racism in the medical field at large, but this is being brought to everyone’s attention through the hashtag White Coats for Black Lives. Dr. Abramson, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us. We really appreciate it.

Randi Abramson: Sure. Thank you. Take care.

Kim Brown: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.

Kim Brown

Kim Brown has been covering national and international politics for over 10 years and has been a sought-after voice on issues on race and culture.