When nurse Eric Kusiak walked into his night shift at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics on June 6, he found the hospital grounds defaced with graffiti. He was frustrated and confused. The hospital had just publicly shared support for peaceful protests taking place nationwide in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
But, he told himself, these actions weren’t personal; they were symptoms of a deep-seated problem.
“I think as a country we’re waking up to the fact that not all racism is overt,” said Kusiak, explaining that racism permeates healthcare just as it does other American structures and institutions. “We’re seeing the damages of passivity today when we compare the health of white people versus people of color. That is a direct result of allowing covert racism to grow, and we’re seeing that it can be just as deadly as overt racism.”
Activists say that the impact COVID-19 is having on black Americans underscores the problem. The latest overall COVID-19 mortality rate for black Americans is 2.3 times as high as the rate for whites and Asians, and 2.2 times as high as the Latino rate, according to APM Research Lab.
But healthcare workers, like seemingly large swaths of society, are no longer remaining silent.
White Coats for Black Lives was created following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014, in response to the industry’s silence on racism and police brutality. The movement is “devoted to embodying the responsibility of the institution of medicine to counteract systemic and interpersonal racism and its effects on the practice of medicine and the health of our patients,” according to the founding organization’s website.