Several top scientific journals have published editorials in the past week accusing their own fields of systemically oppressing black people.
The editorial boards of the journals Cell and New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the editor-in-chief of Science Magazine criticized the lack of diversity in their own publications and fields, blaming the “systemic racism” of the United States. All published articles suggesting reforms to make their areas more equitable and pledging to be more cognizant of their own implicit biases.
“We are the editors of a science journal, committed to publishing and disseminating exciting work across the biological sciences. We are 13 scientists. Not one of us is Black,” the editorial team of Cell began.
All three articles pointed to the lack of black representation in science and medical fields as evidence that systemic boundaries are keeping black people from entering and excelling.
“It is easy to divert blame, to point out that the journal is a reflection of the scientific establishment, to quote statistics. But it is this epidemic of denial of the integral role that each and every member of our society plays in supporting the status quo by failing to actively fight it that has allowed overt and systemic racism to flourish, crippling the lives and livelihoods of Black Americans, including Black scientists,” Cell continued. “Science has a racism problem.”
Science Magazine Editor-in-Chief H. Holden Thorp invoked Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” pointing to one of the chief problems with 1960s systemic racism that King identified as the “white moderate,” or people who value an ordered society over a just one. Thorp said the “white moderate” mindset of the 1960s is still prevalent today.
“The reckoning Dr. King calls for has not happened in the intervening 57 years. The failure of the white moderates to heed the call of the Birmingham Jail is just as integral to today’s systemic racism as the racist actions of some law enforcement. It’s not just abusive police that need to be reminded that Black Lives Matter,” Thorp wrote.
The board of NEJM asserted that the United States’ problems with structural racism could be traced back to 1619, referring to the date of the first European slave ship arriving in the U.S. The date has been popularized by The New York Times’ “1619 Project” which contends that the United States’ true founding was coterminous with the beginning of slavery.
“Slavery has produced a legacy of racism, injustice, and brutality that runs from 1619 to the present, and that legacy infects medicine as it does all social institutions,” NEJM writes.
The NEJM board contends that “structural racism” has kept black doctors out of the practice of medicine, directly impacting the health care of the black community in the U.S. The board cites a study suggesting that black patients are more likely to seek preventative care from black doctors.
“Structural racism in medicine and medical education continue to compromise our ability to deliver the best culturally competent care. Black patients, who are already affected by health inequities and impaired health care access, have a much lower chance than white or Asian-American patients of finding a racially concordant physician,” NEJM writes.
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