June 12, 2020
Dear J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society (JRGOS) family and the greater orthopaedic surgery community,
“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
This latest chapter in the long history of injustice against black and brown bodies in America comes at a harrowing time as we battle a novel COVID-19 pandemic, which is also devastating our community.
As communities of color across the nation wrestle with yet another affront to the elusive promise of equality, it is imperative that our own JRGOS community remain a source of fellowship, healing, and understanding, and a voice of leadership. Now more than ever before, we are called upon to use the privileges afforded us as orthopaedic surgeons as a vehicle for change.
Such violence impedes the pathway of our students and trainees in the form of subtle suggestions of inferiority or overt attempts to silence their humanity. It attacks the health of our patients by limiting access to care and propagating comorbidities and disparities, further proliferating the healthcare inequities. It manifests as stolen professional opportunities, deferred dreams of promotion, and marginalization of individuals otherwise destined for brilliance. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in his May 31 Los Angeles Times editorial, commented, “African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer.”
The recent events affecting the black community are another painful and frustrating reminder of how ingrained racial violence is in the American fabric. In our own profession, we are not strangers to pervasive racial violence of the physical and psychological sort. Orthopaedic surgery remains one of if not the least diverse specialties in medicine.
Many of our own JRGOS members have very personal accounts of overt racism and marginalization within our professional lives. I reflect upon my own personal experiences with overt and violent racism from growing up as a young man in Boston and constantly being racially profiled and stopped by the Boston Police Department for no reason other than “driving while black.”
My most terrifying experience occurred while I was a post-graduate year-2 in the Harvard University orthopaedic surgery program. While on my commute on foot to Brigham and Women’s Hospital at 5 a.m., I was accosted and wrestled to the ground, restrained in handcuffs face down on the pavement with a gun from a Boston policeman pointed to my head—along with 10 other young black men that looked just like me. I stood out in my white coat and had a fully visible Harvard University ID, but it obviously meant nothing in that moment. I was eventually released to make my way to the hospital for early morning rounds, for which I was quite late. I was shaken up, and all that went through my mind was, “Why me?”
The altercation with the Boston Police Department was a direct result of a need to arrest someone due to the aftermath related to the murder of Carol Stuart, a prominent white woman who was seven months pregnant and killed in cold blood in her car with her husband two days prior. This horrendous crime was blamed on a black suspect due to a detailed description her husband, who survived the shooting, offered the Boston Police Department. The sketched black figure looked like me. I felt targeted, fearful, angry, violated, and disrespected. How could this happen to me?
Days later, Charles Stuart, the husband, openly admitted to staging the murder of his wife and falsely accusing a “black man.” He then took his own life by jumping off the Maurice J. Tobin Memorial Bridge. The ugly scars resulting from this incident still haunt the Boston community and me to this day.
With such nightmares and vivid memories associated with that incident, fast-forward 30 years, and I am still continuing to confront the same set of fears. I am now the concerned father of a young black male in his 20s. Over the years, I have openly shared my countless racial life experiences with him and given him “the talk” preparing him for his eventual interactions with the police. I am afraid for his safety and his life amid the recent racial injustices.
The violence and rioting over the last two months in many cities across the United States in response to police brutality are unwarranted and wrong. Vengeance will never be the solution for unjustified violence against a group of people.
Massive peaceful marches and protests around this country and the world of many people of different faith, color, and religion will bring about the change necessary for equity and inclusion of all.
The problem is racism is seen as a conscious and insidious problem in our society. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago. The bully pulpit provided by our individual and collective accomplishments as orthopaedic surgeons grants us a voice that our opposition will have no choice but to reckon with. We must, in unity and on one accord, demand better from the leaders of our institutions and organizations to end the systematic oppression of black and brown people. It is of utmost importance that our country finally lives up to its founding principles of equality for all its citizens. Our society is one of the most incredible collections of talented individuals in existence. Even as we wrestle with feelings of fear and tears of frustration, may we draw strength from the resilience of our peers and the inspiration of the giants who preceded us.
AAOS President Joseph A. Bosco III, MD, FAAOS, recently addressed the fellows of AAOS, expressing compassion, empathy, and words of sadness related to these many recent traumatic events. The acknowledgment and written words touched many JRGOS members. As he alluded to in his statement, AAOS’ Strategic Plan is to create a more diverse organization with people of color. For many of us, this is a starting point, understanding that a much more detailed plan must be formulated and implemented.
As the leader of the JRGOS, I propose we raise our voices, mobilize, and be part of the solution to these racial and healthcare inequities and work hand in hand with AAOS leadership to bring about the necessary change.
In conclusion, we need to come together and reach out to each other, particularly those who may be experiencing despair, fear, and frustration in the aftermath of these tragedies. Lurking behind these events are concerns of and outrage over systemic racism, institutional violence, and failed inclusion.
Unfortunately, there remain people who wish to divide and conquer rather than unite and prosper. We must step up as healthcare providers and allow our voices to be heard to make a real difference in this society. I write these words and speak for all who have come before me and all who will come after me. This is a time to stand up and be heard, not be silent. We must be part of the solution.
Eric Ward Carson, MD, FAAOS, FAOA
President of JRGOS
Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
Washington University School of Medicine