The indifferent and arrogant murder of George Floyd is but one of many searing examples of racism, oppression and sheer wickedness imposed on members of the African-American community over the last 400 years. Repeatedly, over these many years, periods of apparent progress have been undercut by horrific acts of racially-based evil that expose an underlying hard core of racial bias and systematic racism. The sadness, anger and frustration we all feel are compounded by the failure of our society to respond to these events with real and sustained justice. We cannot, however, let these events undermine our quest for meaningful and sustained progress towards correcting the systemic problems and beliefs leading to these events. To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
How can we break out of this cycle of modest progress punctuated by horrific failures? The answers to this question are neither simple nor obvious. Success will require a sustained and multi-faceted effort from all of us. Some reactions seem obvious and personally attainable; we must treat all members of our society equally and fairly. In these difficult times, we much reach out to those directly affected with understanding, respect, and support. All of us must commit to and participate in these positive interactions. Beyond these responses of the moment, we must search for ways that we can change the social, economic and personal environment to minimize the likelihood of recurrence and maximize progress towards real equality for all. As geneticists, we treasure diversity and understand many of the biological factors underlying it. Perhaps, one special responsibility for us is to help others in society understand and value diversity and individuality.
As members of the Human Genetics program and Department of Genetic Medicine community, we recognize there are some among us who are more vulnerable to the biases illuminated by the death of George Floyd and many, many others; whose fear of an encounter with the police is amplified by personal and community experience; and whose experience of pain and suffering far exceeds what most of us can fully understand. To those most vulnerable in our Department of Genetic Medicine family, we stand with you and raise our voices to support you. We are ready to listen and act in pursuit of a learning environment of which you can be proud and a world into which you will move and feel free to change.
Finally, as we search for appropriate responses, we are grateful to have your voices, your guidance to help illuminate a path forward. We recognize and are encouraged by the outpouring of activism, passion, rage and love from our students, our department, our community and even our own families. We also recognize that this journey, which began centuries ago, will be long, sometimes uncomfortable and inelegant and studded with setbacks. We are, however, committed to do everything in our power to speed its progress.