Bioethics Blogs

The Unbearable Whiteness of Bioethics: Exhorting Bioethicists to Address Racism

by Kayhan Parsi, Ph.D.

To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.” (Cicero)

Fight the Power” (Public Enemy)

Recently, our medical school hosted Dr. Linda Rae Murray to give a talk on structural racism and medicine. A former president of the American Public Health Association, Dr. Murray gave a powerful presentation on the history of racism in the United States and its lingering impact upon health disparities. In one of her more provocative slides, she graphically conveyed the long history of racism toward African Americans in the United States (before and after the founding of the republic). For 250 years, legalized slavery existed. After a brief period of Reconstruction, institutionalized racism persisted for another 75 years during the Jim Crow era. During the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights legislation was finally passed. We have now been living for nearly 50 years in a post-civil-rights era (a mere fraction of the overall history recounted by Murray). Today, racial discrimination is clearly illegal. We even have a black President. Yet structural racism persists. Why is that?

Many factors are at play here. Our schools are de facto segregated based on where families live (as Danis, Wilson and White point out, “In some areas, there is more segregation than during the Jim Crow era”). One’s ZIP code has a profound impact upon health outcomes. And, as the authors also point out, “These patterns are not the result of chance.” This reflects the view of Paul Farmer, who argues that the social inequities of the world are not the product of accident or random events.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.