Welcome to Man On The Fringe Sunday.

Today, I’ll share another narrative from my good friend, retired Physician Associate, inveterate Montreal Canadiens fan, and recurrent “guest poster” from Oregon, Jim Ferguson.

Jim has a zany sense of humour, but like most of us, also wears a deeply serious, philosophical bent within his complexity. Jim brings a wealth of life experience to draw on for insights.

This time out, Jim will take us down a darker road than is his usual, but in the end, reflecting his perpetual optimism, he’ll attempt to shine some light on positive approaches to this darkness.

With my thanks to him, I’ll let Jim take the reins from here:

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As always, I am happy to emerge from the bullpen and “step up to the blog plate” when called upon.

I am sure you have heard the old writers lament about having “writer’s block” and that the cure is to simply start writing and “poof” as if by magic an idea will come to you.

Well… I decided to start writing and as I was getting in a groove, I was multitasking and saw a news headline with the latest on the murder of Ahmaud Arbery here in the US.

I am sure you are aware of this tragedy – a black man was jogging through a white neighborhood in the south and three white men chased him down and killed him in the street without provocation.

Weeks passed before any official investigation was started. Finally, the three white men were convicted of murder.

Ahmaud Arbery

I found myself pondering the prevalence of racism that still exists in this country and decided this was a blog topic worthy of focus.

Having lived in North Carolina for 4 years in the 1980s-early 1990s, I recall vividly seeing both subtle and overt racism. It is ugly no matter how it presents itself.

While the issue of racism in America is complex with so many layers worthy of consideration, I want to take a moment here to make the argument that racism is a disease and to focus on that specifically.

Make no mistake about it – racism is a disease. It is a disease of the human heart! Let us explore this in more depth.

If you look up the definition of disease in the dictionary you get the usual medical definition of a disorder of the body that produces specific signs and/or symptoms allowing the provider to come to a diagnosis and to then implement a treatment plan. No surprise there.

I have been a family medicine provider here in the U.S. for over 30 years and have seen thousands of patients during that time.

The medical model used to evaluate and treat physical and psychological disorders involves eliciting a thorough medical history from the patient (their symptoms) and performing a detailed physical examination (looking for and identifying key signs).

Next a “differential diagnosis” is developed i.e. a shopping list of possible diagnoses based on the above, ordering any pertinent diagnostic studies to refine what we think is going on, and finally (in the perfect world) arriving at THE diagnosis and implementing a treatment plan for the specific disease/disorder in question.

However, if you read further (depending on the dictionary), you will see additional definitions i.e., reference to the quality of causing dis-ease or lack of ease. You may also read that a disease is “a particular quality, habit, or disposition regarded as adversely affecting a person or group of people.”

So… I offer for your consideration, does not racism meet the definition of a disease based on these descriptions?

Can you imagine anything causing more “dis-ease” to a human being or group of human beings than to be hated, despised, oppressed, abused, threatened, killed, or the threat thereof, simply because of the colour of your skin? Simply because of the amount of the pigment melanin in your skin compared to that of another. I can barely imagine how such treatment must feel.

Growing up white in Canada and living as a white man in the U.S. during much of my adult years, there was inherent privilege for sure – White privilege- we have all heard the term. It exists whether we acknowledge it or not.

Mr. Arbery was not granted the same privilege as a white jogger running through the same neighborhood.

Racism is a disease of the human heart my friends.

Humans are not born racist. Racism is a learned behaviour.

Exhibit A: I have a dear friend from New Hampshire. She is a lover of all humanity no matter what colour, gender, religion, nationality, etc. Her husband, however, hates black people and is not afraid to state it publicly. He is as matter-of-fact telling me of his hatred for black people as the day is long.

Years ago I asked him: “Bucky… why do you hate black people?” to which he replied, “Because my parents hated them.”

I then asked if he had ever met a black person and the reply was “no!”

His hatred of a whole race was learned from his parents and like a foul stench that seems to linger forever, he has carried this hatred in his heart his whole life.

Exhibit B: here is another (of many I could share) example of racism I encountered.

When at university in North Carolina in the 1980s, we lived in a multi-racial apartment complex in Greensboro. The “little old lady” next door loved our children and considered herself a surrogate grandma to our kids. One day as we were talking out in the parking lot, she saw another neighbor and her mother walking nearby and our neighbor made a comment to us about “those “N*%*&*^’s” next door.”

My wife and I expressed our shock at her comments and stated our views on the oneness of the human family and loving all humankind to which she responded defensively, “well you aren’t from here so you simply can’t understand.” Our elderly neighbor was pleasant on the surface but below the surface and behind the backs of our black neighbors she was seething with hatred towards these two women.

Racism can be overt as in Bucky’s case or subtle as in the case of the racist surrogate grandma, but both examples demonstrate a learned behaviour, not an innate trait.

Human beings are not born to hate others. My experience in North Carolina reinforced in me the realization that despite the great advances in civil rights (thank you Dr. MLK, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and the many others who sacrificed themselves for racial equality) racism is still very much part of the fabric of life in the States today.

Hate is a powerfully visible symptom of the disease of racism. It manifests itself in various “signs” both overt and subtle as noted above.

Other factors contribute to racism (or any “-ism” for that matter). Some examples include suspicion of others, ignorance, fear of something unknown or different, developing what is known as a “rigid identity” where a person retreats into their own “moral group” (politics, religion, RACE, nationality, etc.) and everyone else is “the other” worthy of suspicion, disdain, persecution, etc. Lack of empathy towards the oppressed is a symptom of racism as is defensiveness.

I saw this firsthand in North Carolina.

At a meeting of the Institute for the Healing of Racism in Greensboro in the late 1980s, a friend was sharing a story of how a black woman in a gathering made a simple request to have meetings in her area of town so that she could be relieved of all the bus travel required to get to “the white side of town”. One white woman became very defensive at this simple request, and when the black woman tried to have civil consultation on this request, the white woman became even more defensive reverting to the “look at all I have done for you” mentality to silence the black woman.

The signs and symptoms of racism are varied and many.

I will close with a few comments on the treatment of racism.

As you know, when you go to the clinic with an ailment you are instructed on how to manage or cure your ailment. This often includes some form of medication.

What of the “medication” for the healing of racism? What treatment plan exists to cure this dreaded disease?

• The cure is right in front of our eyes! If one hates, then the cure is to love!

• If one is ignorant or is afraid of folks different than oneself, then the cure is to gain knowledge and to engage with those different than ourselves!

• If one has suspicion for a person or group different than us, the answer again is to gain knowledge of those people/groups who are different so we can learn of them and their customs and to engage them in friendship.

The ultimate cure for racism is to accept that we are all children of one Creator and members of one family – the human family.

This concept of the oneness of humanity should be taught in schools in all subjects so the children will grow up to respect and even love all humanity as their own family.

Guy Murchie, a wonderful scientist/philosopher/spiritualist, wrote in his book “The Seven Mysteries of Life” something to the effect that if we trace our pedigree back 52 generations we encompass the whole population that has ever existed in our world (I have done this using a calculator and I get to the ~107 billion total population that ever lived on earth after about 37 generations).

This means that we are all related.

We are all cousins, and it behooves us to treat our human family with dignity and love and if we do this the disease of racism will vanish.

Many barriers exist to the implementation of this cure but just remember… it all begins with each of us focusing on changing one heart – our own! We can then serve as catalysts of change in our own communities as our own hearts change.

Peace,

Jim Ferguson

Jim and his “better half” Deb