“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I’ve lived in the United States for 70 years now, and I have to admit I’ve often been disappointed in our failure to live up to our ideals. But I also have to say, I’ve never really been able to deny that there’s a promise that constantly resides in the American people, that could make us the great democratic nation that we carry in our hearts and in our dreams. And if we put our hearts and our lives together and fought for the very ideals—those of equality, of liberty, of social justice, of compassion for our neighbors—we would find that this is where our strength resides. And we have it within our power to create the kind of humane society we’ve always dreamt of. Now, all of this sounds corny when you say it. But it ain’t corny when you do it.”
We at PCH were horrified and saddened by the murder of George Floyd. We’ve been horrified by the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and countless others over the years. I remember hearing about Emmitt Till when I was a child. Later, the framing of Ruben Hurricane Carter. And Rodney King wasn’t so long ago. There have been so many examples of two separate and unequal justice systems in our country. And part of the horror of these dehumanizing acts is the commonality of the acts and cultural numbing as a reaction, and the helplessness as events unfold again and again with few consequences to the perpetrators or the system that creates them. The individual officers are surely to blame in the George Floyd case, but even more so the system that has created them: a system that was intentionally built upon racism and the “othering” that affects us all.
PCH has always been at the forefront of fighting for the ideals of equality and social justice in our focus on client rights in mental healthcare, from our mission of not accepting the term “mental illness” in describing the human experience, to removing pejorative labels and terms of “disorder.” Words matter, and particularly those that marginalize people in similar ways that racial and religious differences are highlighting in the service of othering, and in providing a platform for discrimination and scapegoating for the ills of our culture.
Racism is a form of othering in which individuals or groups attribute negative characteristics to other individuals or groups of people that set them apart as somehow opposite or inferior. White supremacy is a virulent example of othering that has existed since before the founding of this country and has continued in various forms to the present time. Labeling individuals with psychiatric disorders can also “other” people, causing them to be stigmatized and discriminated against. PCH opposes all oppressive forms of othering as a value that we all embrace and practice in helping our clients to heal.
While we have put human rights at the forefront of our clinical and work culture at PCH, we are now working to further implement that vision in the creation of a PCH Social Justice and Human Rights Initiative. And we are all in this together in the goal of de-emphasizing the othering in our system, by emphasizing the belief that both in treatment and working together we, our clients and our staff will work to create the kind of humane society we strive for as a part of the American ideal. We see the ignition of a movement that has awakened in our society and in which we feel a passion to participate.
We will be enacting a number of measures and projects to energize our response toward creating a more just and equal society, as well as to increase awareness, insight and knowledge of the impacts of white privilege, racism, and othering. The COVID-19 pandemic complicates how we respond, as we want to keep our own PCH culture safe, and public gatherings carry health risks that we do not want to bring into our community. But there are many ways we can contribute and feel empowered in this movement:
- By creating a Social Justice Committee to create and find resources for social action. I’ve asked Tyra Goodman, our HR Director, to chair this committee as someone with many years of experience working with nonprofit organizations in communities of color.
- Opportunities to donate to groups that strive for social justice, such as Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, SPLC, NAACP, Color of Change, and others. PCH will match any donations our staff or clients wish to make.
- Examining racial issues in the mental health system. For example, people of color are overly represented in our community mental health system and in carrying more severe psychiatric diagnoses but are under-represented in access to mental health services. What are the reasons?
- As part of our PCH Arts program, we are expanding the program into PCH Artivism, a combination of Art and Activism. We want to encourage artwork by clients and staff that emphasizes the social issues of the day, and which results in a virtual art show that will be displayed on our website as well as social media sites.
- A weekly Social Action Group for staff and clients to engage in dialoguing and working toward solutions.
- Providing lists of resources, including books, films, and video presentations, to raise consciousness, educate and communicate about racism, discrimination, white privilege, white fragility, and other issues.
We hope everyone remains safe in our community, and we want to provide an outlet to engage in the social movement for those who would like to participate. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” We all need to look inward and reflect on how our thoughts and actions contribute to our personal issues as well as the issues and problems of our larger cultural system. As we fight against the systemic racism and othering that has plagued our nation for centuries, we are making a commitment to working for equality and freedom from hatred and oppression and discrimination. We hope that many will choose to join us both within and outside the PCH community.
Jeff, Terry, Adriana, Tim, and Tyra