ICAAP's Statement on Racism

How devastating to find ourselves here, yet again. It is difficult to express the deep sadness and intense anger that we at the Illinois Chapter of the AAP share with our friends, colleagues, patients and families, not only about the senseless death of George Floyd, but also about the underlying systemic inequities and racism that have lead us to this point.

After 23 years of working in a clinic serving low income, culturally and linguistically diverse families, I take cultural humility to heart. The topic of racism has come up in the exam room, a preschooler that was expelled, a child who is called a racial slur in the playground, a parent who does not want to immunize her infant because of concerns of experimentation on Black people - a consequence of the history of racism in science. But this week, for the first time, I asked the teens I saw in clinic, how racism and police brutality affected them. This is sad for two reasons. The first is that racism and police brutality would be common enough to affect my patients.  The second, is that I never thought to ask this question before, despite the frequent terrible acts of violence against African-American people that keep occurring - George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Rodney King - the list seems to be endless.  

This is a painful lesson. We have to be very intentional and speak out against racism, as humans, because it is morally wrong, and as physicians, because it also affects our patients’ health. It is a socially transmitted disease that we need to eradicate. I re-read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy Statement on The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health. It reviews the evidence on the role of racism on developmental and health outcomes and clarifies that, while race is a social construct, racism is a “core social determinant of health that is a driver of inequities.” It also discusses what pediatricians can do to address and ameliorate the effects of racism on children and adolescents, starting with acknowledging the problem, identifying our own biases, and creating a culturally safe medical home. If you have not read this policy statement yet, I urge you to do so.

My patients’ answers were heart-breaking. They were angry about the racist incidents at their schools that kept occurring, despite multiple complaints. They were worried about their friends. They were upset that they were not able to go to the protests. They were traumatized and retraumatized by the countless YouTube videos of police violence against peaceful protesters, including shooting rubber bullets at a crowd and pepper spraying a young girl in the face. Beyond the brutality, these videos were particularly upsetting because they were disempowering. What is left if you can’t peacefully protest?

What can we say to that? Even though there is not a good answer, as the AAP policy states, “pediatricians are uniquely positioned to both prevent and mitigate the consequences of racism as a key and trusted source of support for pediatric patients and their families.” We can start by listening, and making it clear that we, as physicians and people with influence, are equally horrified and unwilling to be bystanders while atrocities occur. But that is just the beginning. The policy statement also gives concrete actions to take in clinical care, education, advocacy and research.

We at ICAAP are committed to doing our part to consciously and intentionally incorporate these actions, and a racial equity lens, into the work that we do; from our advocacy efforts on health care access, to our various initiatives including housing, immunizations, and Reach Out and Read; from our clinical educational programs to our efforts in practice transformation; and from our membership activities to our staff and leadership training and recruitment.

These times have been filled with anguish, for some even more than for others. But we have a unique opportunity as part of ICAAP –  we can use our network to foster equity and justice, and to fight against racism of all kinds.

Sincerely,

Mariana Glusman, MD FAAP
President
Illinois Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics