Exploring Human Potential

We Must All Swim Together for Cross-Racial Solidarity.

Posted on | February 18, 2021 | 3 Comments

Source: Penguin Random House

Mike Magee

“…honest self-examination is a critically important step to better understanding ourselves, to heal old wounds, and to take corrective actions to address ongoing societal harms.”

These were not the words of a member of Congress in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, nor the incantations of a religious leader appealing to a congregation of worshipers. They were the words this week of James L. Madura MD, the CEO of the American Medical Association in Chicago, IL.

They mirrored the final words in “CODE BLUE: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex”: “In the Declaration of Independence, our nation’s founders proclaimed that equality was self-evident. Nearly 250 years later, what has become equally self-evident is that there is no equality without reasonable access to health care, and that universal insurance coverage is the only system that truly can provide access that is reasonable.”

Dr. Madura was announcing the retirement of the bust of Dr. Nathan Davis who since 1845 has proudly carried the moniker, “father of the AMA.” The organization that he was instrumental in launching, however, had a rocky start.

According to Madura, “Dr. Davis’s answer for maintaining the AMA as a national organization was to explicitly exclude women and Black physicians from representation in our House of Delegates, thus appeasing many state and local medical societies who barred all but white men from their membership…Sadly, this would remain AMA policy for nearly a century, until race- and gender-based discrimination was officially outlawed by the Civil Right Act of 1964.”

His statement comes at a time when white supremacy and domestic terrorism is front and center after four years of relentless encouragement by Donald Trump. But its origins arose during a different Republican administration.

In the new millennium, there was renewed focus within academic medicine on health disparities. Madura states that “In 2008, the AMA concluded a three-year study on the racial divide in organized medicine and publicly apologized for our organization’s past discriminatory practices against Black physicians. The AMA’s apology was never intended to be the final word on the subject of race for our organization. In fact, the AMA called it ‘a modest first step toward healing and reconciliation.’”

Madura likely agrees with Bill Moyers who believes the problem runs deep and is at the core of America’s fatal flaw. Moyers says, “We’ve invested the word ‘democracy,’ with so much sacred aura. But we never really have had a real democracy.”

Author Heather McGhee, whose new book, THE SUM OF US: What Racism Costs Everyone, and How We Can Prosper Together” was just released, couldn’t agree more. As she says, “I think we really do have a secular religion in America, this idea that the powerful have to ask us for their permission to rule, right? The founders left holes in the bedrock of that revolutionary idea in order to make room for slavery and racial subjugation. And time and time again, with every generation, there has been a concerted effort to keep chipping away, to keep democracy, which in this country, would be a multiracial democracy, from taking root.”

McGhee literally illustrates her point on the book cover. There you’ll find a 1950 style illustration of a white child jumping off a diving board into a swimming pool, as a black child steps on a ladder on her way out. Inside the cover, McGhee reveals that when anti-segregation laws took hold in the U.S., over 2000 thousand communities, not only in the South but in the North as well, drained or filled in these public pools financed by tax dollars, rather than comply with integration. In recounting the story to Bill Moyers, he replies, “That happened, I regret to tell you, in my hometown.”

Heather McGhee is a descendent of slaves. Her great-grandparents and grandparents were part of the great migration north, worked in the steel mills, and settled in Madura’s city, Chicago. What the two have in common today is optimism and activism.

In removing Nathan Davis from his throne, Dr. Madura signals that it is time for this nation to grow up, swim in the same pool, and leave the “zero sum” game behind.

McGhee couldn’t agree more. “Racism has a cost for everyone. And its primary function in our society has been to grease the wheels for a machine of greed that has impoverished almost everyone…racial division as a tool wielded by those who are the most wealthy, the most powerful, and the most self-interested, is something that breaks down potential coalitions between people who have common struggle. It makes us demonize one another when, in fact, we should be linking arms to improve all of our lives…when we can create cross-racial solidarity, we can all benefit.”


3 Responses to “We Must All Swim Together for Cross-Racial Solidarity.”

  1. Jill Stewart
    February 20th, 2021 @ 8:44 am

    Well done, Mike! Wish I had written this myself. AMA and Bill Moyers are both former clients, as are you. And I’m currently reading Heather’s book because it relates to a series of online panels iI’m organizing about history and structural racism. This connects a lot of dots!

  2. Mike Magee
    February 20th, 2021 @ 9:39 am

    Thanks, Jill. Your life and work have touched so many others. I for one am extraordinarily grateful. As you know better than most, the AMA is a reflection of the best and the worst in the history of these United States. The kind of witnessing that individuals like Bill Moyers and organizations like MSF do at least gives us a fighting chance to evolve as humans. Heather’s book coming, as it does, on the back end of an historic pandemic, uniquely appeals to rational problem solving over fear-mongering. Best, Mike

  3. Jill O'Mahony Stewart
    February 20th, 2021 @ 10:06 am

    Glad I had a chance to swim in your pool, Mike!

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