Recently, I was approach by a very dear friend on behalf of an organization to which we both belong called the Old North State Dental Society. The ONSDS is a dental professional organization. Like any professional organization or study club, it seeks to enlighten its membership regarding technical progress of the profession as well as help its members adapt to the impact of the rapidly changing realities of everyday life and the latest cultural trends. The ONSDS is unique in that it tailors its efforts to the needs and interests of black and brown people in the state of North Carolina.
My friend asked me to write post discussing the Black Lives Matter movement and its relevance to minorities in the dental profession and what, if any role, minority dentists should play in the movement. The first thing I think about when someone mentions the BLM movement is the 7 minute interview given by a young writer named Kimberly Jones at the height of the protests. The interview went viral on U-Tube, and if you haven’t already seen it, I recommend you do so. It was the most poignant, historically accurate and informative synopsis of the African American’s plight in the USA that I have ever seen, delivered with a passion and sincerity that I haven’t witnessed in over fifty years. Ms. Jones described with clarity that even a 10 year-old could understand, how most of the cultural and social norms that all Americans, white and black, have been conditioned to regard as the foundation of law and order, and judicial fairness in our society, were put in place to justify the subjugation and disenfranchisement of people of African decent and other people of color. Americans have been conditioned to believe that everyone in America has had an equal opportunity for success, and the fact that black people as a whole have failed to take advantage of those opportunities serves as evidence that black people really are different from white people and therefore deserve to be prevented from moving into neighborhoods that white people value and are justly prevented from accessing the legitimate financial markets that white people take for granted. Most white Americans never consider that the reason there is so much poverty and lack of education in so many black communities is precisely because they have been denied those opportunities. They chose to believe instead that black people are incapable of white people’s ability utilize the resources out there to achieve success, and never consider that the flat denial of those same resources to black people is the reason for their inability to achieve success.
This is why the white community quickly tires of causes like Black Lives Matter, even when they sympathize with the cause. They see the intensifying chaos and frustration displayed on the streets and say to themselves, “I know those people have been wronged, but unfortunately, I must rely on traditional law and order tactics to keep me and my family safe”, even though on some level they know that historically and traditionally, “law and order” in this country meant policing and adjudicating black people in a manner that keeps them isolated from white people and suppressed by any means necessary. So the vicious cycle continues. America’s belief in white superiority and black inferiority, perpetuates the practices that keeps black people in a state of poverty and despair, which in turn validates the belief in white superiority and black inferiority, and on and on it goes, generation after generation.
So all that considered, what should black dentists and other minority professionals do to support Black Lives Matter? The first thing they must do is remind themselves that they and their families are just as vulnerable to unlawful and violent police tactics and a racially biased judicial system as all the less fortunate black people and other minorities of color they see protesting in the streets. That is why we must support the activists in the movement by availing ourselves to donate our services to treat injuries sustained by peaceful protesters, injured by police and others in the course of their demonstrations. Second, they must understand that at this point in time, even well meaning white people cannot be depended on to look out for our interests. To the extent that even a well intentioned white population as a whole is silent on the issue and willing to tolerant of racism and injustice against black people, the rest of us must rely on each other to catalyze the changes we know need to happen in our profession and the community at large. Close to half of the white population is solidly behind the push to create social justice for all, but we must be the ones to lead and communicate to them how best to achieve that change. We must be the ambassadors of our people to help our white brethren understand why our racist traditions and practices are bad for all Americans, regardless of race. Even well meaning white people have difficulty recognizing when they themselves are unintentionally engaged is racist practices. We must provide a safe haven for them to discuss, and if willing to do so, correct the errors of their ways.
Of course, none of this is possible if we ourselves don’t continue to network with each other through organizations like the ONSDS. Let’s face it, as individuals; we don’t always know the best approach to confront some of these challenges and issues. We must first do the hard work of organizing our thoughts and collecting the facts that will enable us to provide the leadership the country is looking for us to provide. Black professional organizations like the ONSDS have been the vehicles to carry out that mission for black professionals for over 100 years. Men like Dr. George Simpkins and Dr. Reginald Hawkins are shinning examples of the leadership produced by the ONSDS. Today, we need young men and women like them more than ever.