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Discrimination and Racial Injustice: Are We Moving Forward, Backwards, or Marching in Place?

  • February 23, 2023

Are we moving forward, backwards, or marching in place? Within a two-week time span, the United States of America celebrated the birth of the great civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the start of Black History Month recognizing the achievements and contributions of Black individuals to the growth of our society. Ironic enough, our country witnessed the brutal beating and murder of an unarmed Black male during that same time frame by officers who pledged to serve and protect the citizens of our communities. Many people struggle with how such atrocities could take place when anti-racism conversations are gaining momentum in various corporate and institutional settings.

Are we moving forward, backwards, or marching in place? The Supreme Court is poised to tackle the subject of affirmative action to determine if certain practices are discriminatory against all eligible applicants. While at the same time, a major media network pulls a popular Black male journalist from a highly rated news broadcast show for having a consensual romantic relationship with a fellow popular white female journalist. Their private lives somehow seen as negatively impacting viewership and ratings.

These questions, atrocities, injustices and even the irony of these events since the start of year 2023 make me ponder if I am experiencing anachronism. Are we moving forward, backwards, or marking time regarding diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts within our communities? I’ve concluded that we can have the “right” guide but end up in the “wrong” destination.

Rev. Dr. King, also known as The Drum Major for Justice, made the following remarks in his sermon entitled “The Drum Major Instinct”: “There is nothing wrong with the drum major instinct — the desire to be out front, the desire to be lead in the parade — . . . But I want you to be first in love.” Greatness comes from humble servitude. Because if you are not careful, the drum major instinct will lead to “snobbish exclusivism” and “tragic race prejudice.” “Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that people must feel superior….and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first.”

So, I ask you: is the conductor of the “drum major instinct” within you advancing forward, pulling you backwards, or marking time in relation to your support of diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives and uprooting the toxic ideologies of discrimination and racial injustice? I urge you to be transformational and not trendy when the opportunities present themselves to exercise fairness to persons within your scope of practice and influence. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable and challenged when Black people point out racism or discriminatory acts. Do not rely on the oppressed group to educate you about the racism principles enacted against them; the oppressed did not create the “drum major instinct” nor should they have to explain how it negatively impacts them.

I appreciate that an individual person marches to the beat of one’s own drum. Regardless of the path taken, my hope is the person concludes their journey at the destination of equity, freedom, and peace for all.

By Jonathan J. Shepherd, M.D., FAPA, DFAACAP


Jonathan J. Shepherd, M.D., FAPA, DFAACAP

Chair, APA Caucus of Black Psychiatrists

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