May 31, 2020
To our orthopaedic community and vistitors,
Members of our department from disparate backgrounds have understandably expressed sadness and outrage at the recent deaths Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and now George Floyd. I share their sentiments. The UW Medicine community has endured several struggles over the past year - radioactive cesium upending laboratories at the R&T building, aspergillus severely curtailing care of children at SCH, and the coronavirus pandemic leading to massive loss of life. However, the senseless deaths of these three and other African-Americans have occurred at the hands of our fellow citizens or those who enlisted to protect us, and they serve as a pointed reminder of our nation’s history of racism.
The sheer nonchalant brutality of the killing of Mr. Floyd, televised for the world to view, has captured our attention and I am sure many of us are trying to make any sort of sense of it and explain it to our children or to friends outside of the United States. These tragic and senseless deaths unfortunately are not isolated, in fact they are just the latest three that have come to light in a long legacy of similarly horrific deaths. At this point I am not even sure what “horrific" means in the context of events that occur with such disheartening regularity. We all share the same sense of outrage over these deaths and yet expressing outrage - “horrific” and “enough is enough” - is clearly not enough if we are to see real change.
I cannot profess to have the answers to this long-standing stain on our community and our nation and we will all have our own personal approaches. While we won’t see the abolition of racism and violence in our country in the span of our lives, the status quo isn’t acceptable and we are not free from the moral imperative to help, to at least reach out and express our shame and support, and to listen to our black neighbors, colleagues and members of our department. Perhaps the best next step is listening closely to their everyday fears - fears that are existential and fears that most of us live our lives without needing to pay any regard to. Fears that do not arise out of paranoia but fears that spring from words, deeds and events in our daily lives. Fears that are now greatly magnified and made manifest by recent events.
Many are hurting, disillusioned and fearful - this is a time to care for each other, our trainees, and particularly those members of our department of color. Express solidarity, ask how you can help, listen to their perspective. Support the department’s efforts at encouraging and pursuing diversity and inclusion. Take your usual excellent care of the neediest in our community to another level. Ask our leaders in government - our sheriff, mayor, governor, representatives - what they are doing to address endemic racism and violence and let them know that their words and actions are important for your continued support. Vote. Let your partners, staff and residents know that they are welcome in our department. Even small gestures and efforts, consistently applied, can make a difference as we strive for a more perfect department, community and nation.
Howard A. Chansky, MD