Juneteenth Reflection

by Katrina Davis-Salazar

I love my family. I love so many things about my family. One of the things I love about my family is all our different backgrounds. We are Black, White, and Asian. It gives each of us such a deeper understanding of how society views us as individuals and how society view us in pairings, triads, or in our group. We have a broad worldview and a more nuanced understanding and experience of race because of our personal diversity and open conversations with each other.

My son and I talked about Juneteenth yesterday. Specifically, we talked about how our mayor, Lori Lightfoot, is declaring racism to be a public health crisis. My son said, "about time."

We are very active consumers of healthcare in my family. Someone usually has something: a joint problem or a broken shoulder or a chronic mental health condition.

Regardless of issue, our family receives world-class, top-notch health treatment. We have those resources in Chicago; we know how to access them; we can afford it; we use them. I started my career working in healthcare, raising money for a university-affiliated teaching hospital. I was privy to much of the cutting-edge work happening in the the system. I learned many things at that job, most notably that regardless of what you have going on, the sooner you catch it and treat it, the better your prognosis and outcome.

As I traverse life with one of my son's who has a chronic health condition, the disparities in financial access to care, physical access to care, trust for providers, trust of the system, and a cultural acceptance for health care smack me in the face. When I take him to various appointments, he is often racially in the minority. I used to think it was because Chicago was a segregated city. When we see other children of color in groups or clinics we attend, they are often adopted into White families. For many years, I thought that children who were adopted had more trauma to overcome than other kids, and that's why I was seeing that demographic mix.

Now I wonder if my assumption was complete. Maybe I don't see as many kids of color accessing therapeutic services it's because of systemic racism that goes back to slavery. This nation freed an entire population of traumatized people -- beating them, beating them in front of each other, killing them, raping them, chaining them, ripping their children away from them, torturing them, forcing them to work in unsafe conditions, all of it. We "freed" slaves, but were they really free?

This nation re-traumatized them, making them second-class (last-class!) citizens, denying access to basic human rights like food, water, shelter, and justifying its actions by saying they have just as many opportunities as the rest of us. They're free like everybody else. But this country didn't educate them or house them or work to heal the generational trauma that slave-owners inflicted. We put the slaves outside and said, go fend for yourselves. And then we looked down upon them when they didn't succeed. And the vestiges of that inhumane, insensitive, uncaring, cruel, harmful, deplorable way of thinking lingers today.

I think that explanation scratches the surface better than my assumption of segregation. But my city's segregation is also caused by systemic racism: White flight to the suburbs, mortgages approved for White residents and denied for Black residents, an educational system that had plenty of funding for White students and not nearly enough for Black students so that Black communities couldn't be educated out of poverty - the myth that education is the great equalizer.

When our family navigates complicated medical issues, I feel at once grateful for my education and my privilege and at the same time wracked with survivor's guilt. Everyone should be able to access the healthcare that they need, afford the healthcare they need, and trust in their providers.

I celebrate the fact that this Juneteenth our mayor is making equity in health care a priority. I hope this is the tip of the iceberg. I also wish there were no iceberg.


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