By: J. Blake Scott, Lisa Melonçon, Cathryn Molloy, Co-Editors, Rhetoric of Health and Medicine
“I can’t breathe,” 30-year-old Brooklyn teacher Rana Zoe Mungin told an ambulance driver. The driver insinuated that this was caused by a panic attack and not the virus that causes COVID-19—the virus for which she’d been denied testing twice, and the virus that would later end Mungin’s life (see Brito). As Rana’s sister astutely observed, race played a substantial role in the care that Mungin did not receive. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t suddenly usher in, but rather has exacerbated, racial disparities and mistreatment in health and medicine that have always been a shameful feature of U.S. healthcare. Likewise, as many in writing studies may remember, black activist June Jordan wrote in 1985 about the already-then-longstanding problem of police brutality toward and unlawful murder of black bodies.
We mourn Mungin and all of the black lives lost to COVID-19. We recognize such losses as part of racist and deeply enraging realties in the institutional practices of and people’s everyday lived experiences with health and medicine. We also recognized that these realities are related to other longstanding patterns, and crises, of racial injustice, including educational and economic inequalities and the anti-black law enforcement violence that caused the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Eric Garner, Jonathan Ferrell, and so many others. Indeed, a growing number of U.S. medical and health organizations have specified discriminatory law enforcement violence as a public health issue. As we compose this statement, we are keenly aware of its capacity to be read as merely performative or as simply too little, too late, and we understand that the changes needed to further recognize, ameliorate, and redress healthcare and other forms of racial injustice must be enacted through a sustained commitment over time, and must focus both inward and outward and involve both individual and collective action. Still, we are loath to let any silence be mistaken for complacency or ambivalence, and we pledge to help foster such a sustained commitment in the rhetoric of health and medicine (and beyond).
As co-editors of RHM, we acknowledge an unacceptable, relative dearth in our field’s body of work about racial injustice, and our own lack of action to redress this in our own roles as fellow scholars in and stewards of the field. We commit to do more and better in cultivating, sponsoring, publishing, and promoting scholarship that addresses racism and interlocking systems of oppression as public health (and/or other health or medical) issues. This is not to say that we will not continue to encourage rhetorically inflected scholarship about a range of topics, but we also don’t see these two goals as distinct, as racial and other forms of injustice and oppression permeate health and medicine. Accordingly, we strongly encourage conversations about manuscript ideas (email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment) and submissions–as commentaries, persuasion briefs, dialogues, research articles, and alternative forms that you might propose–about these urgent and wicked (in both senses of the word) problems.
We will elaborate on ways we (as editors and as a field) can enact our commitment to addressing these gaps in a future editors’ introduction. For now, though, we join others in our field and beyond in condemning anti-black law enforcement violence and other forms of systemic racism as urgent but also longstanding public health crises. We acknowledge that academic scholarship and its infrastructures has participated in and perpetuated the inequities and systemic forms of violence that must be redressed; we accept responsibility for our roles in such injustices.
Although we are doubtful that medical rhetoric or RHM as a field has done enough to claim that we are in solidarity with the movement (and not just the slogan) of #BlackLivesMatter, we are very thankful for, and express our solidarity with, the statement developed by the officers CCCC Medical Rhetoric Standing Group–Amy Reed, Lucía Durá, Molly Kessler, Danielle Stambler, Kelly Pender, and Erin Fitzgerald.
We appreciate the way they highlight (in ways that we did not in our last editors’ introduction) “the decades of research led by Black scholars and activists” on how “racism negatively affects Black people’s health”; we endorse their call for racial justice and their affirmation of the need for protest; we echo their “support for Black colleagues, students, and community members”; and we applaud their work in identifying potential actions to support and communication about Black health to amplify. Regarding the importance of protest, we want to affirm the “Open letter advocating for an anti-racist public health response to demonstrations against systemic injustice occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic,” written by infectious disease experts from the University of Washington and now signed by over 1,000 health professionals.
To aid our collective conversation and efforts to better enact RHM advocacy of racial justice, we have compiled three lists, with links, below: 1) information/resources about racial equity and social justice related to the COVID-19 pandemic; 2) statements by other professional organizations in rhetorical studies and intersecting areas addressing anti-black violence and racial injustice; and 3) statements by U.S. professional health organizations about racism and police brutality or violence as a public health issue.
Information about and Resources for COVID-19 Racial Equity and Social Justice:
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Statements by Other Organizations in Rhetoric and Composition Studies about Anti-Black Violence and Racial Injustice:
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Statements by U.S. Professional Health Organizations (or their leaders) about Racism (including Racist Police Violence) as a Public Health Issue (all links open in a new window):
Brito, Chrisopher. (2020, April 29). “Beloved New York City teacher dies from coronavirus after family claims she was denied testing twice.” CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rana-zoe-mungin-brooklyn-teacher-coronavirus-dies-denied-testing/