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How to heal the wounds of racism

When I became a medic for the Army National Guard, I gained a new and unfamiliar perspective; I’m now trained to zero in on imminent, life-threatening trauma.

Our country is hemorrhaging right now, including the Adirondacks. We have a big bleed, folks, one which, long disguised as controlled, is actually out of control, threatening fatality. Starting in 1619 when the first slaves were brought to these shores, and still persisting, is a wound so deep that we must take extreme measures to preserve life. 

Racism affects us all, the same way a wound to the heart affects all vital organs. In continuing with this (admittedly strange) metaphorical argument, we need to think of this bleed as a wound that has struck deeply in the trunk of the body. We don’t know which organ because we can’t open the patient up, but we know it’s bad, and the patient is at risk of “bleeding out.”

The “United” States has always boasted magnificent cultural diversity, often referred to as a “melting pot.” I can tell you exactly who is melting in the pot and who is stirring the contents. I’d say “it breaks my heart that …” but black people and people of color don’t need our broken hearts. They need our willingness to be advocates and accomplices. So I’ll say this: It enrages me that we live in a place where “all good things are wild and free,” yet there has been display after display of racism here. Specific encounters of racism, against residents and visitors who are black and who are people of color, are not my stories to tell. Rather, I implore you to pay close attention to the examples of racism that pervade the North Country. 

So can we really talk up the North Country and the Adirondacks as this beautiful place where being wild and free is celebrated when black people and people of color don’t even feel safe walking out their door?

When someone is hemorrhaging, we are instructed to pack the wound and hold pressure. First, we need to cut off the blood supply. In the field, we use gauze with a hemostatic (clotting) agent to pack the wound. In our communities, how do we stop the bleeding? What do we use to “pack the wound?” For starters, educating ourselves, and a willingness to first listen deeply and closely to black people who are telling us what they need. By having difficult conversations with people who don’t agree that “all men are created equal.” By calling and writing leaders and lawmakers, by giving to organizations that help black people and people of color. Pack that wound. 

Packing the wound isn’t enough. Historically, that’s where we’ve gone astray. Abolition of slavery? The effort was there; however, hemostatic gauze didn’t exist then, and they didn’t hold pressure, rather just let the gauze limply dangle from the wound as our society allowed and even encouraged rampant wrongful imprisonment of black people immediately after they had been “freed.” (I don’t have time to explain. Please use Google, or, better, watch “13th” on Netflix.) Moving ahead to the Civil Rights Movement, here we did a better job of packing the wound. We got the gauze in and held pressure for a minute or so. Yet the Nixon and Reagan administrations, in declaring their wars on “crime” and on “drugs” (i.e., a war by insecure white men on black people and people of color) yanked that gauze right out of the wound, leaving only bare hands trying to hold pressure for decades.

Fast-forward to now. It’s been years since the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the pushback has been strong. (We’ve been working backward, removing gauze from the wound.) We have partisanship of unprecedented levels. We’ve turned human rights into a partisan issue rather than a societal one. We have not only been unable to keep the wound packed and pressure on it; we have opened it up more. The patient hasn’t bled out yet, though. There’s hope.

We’re seeing new advocates and influencers appearing; they are potentially those hemostatic agents we need to stop this hemorrhage. In the North Country, I am increasingly encountering individuals who want to start walking the walk. One way I am walking that walk is by taking time to unpack my “Invisible Knapsack” (see Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”) to ensure that I not only hold myself accountable for my historic wrongdoings upon black people and people of color, but that I stop myself from doing harm to them again. This is currently a daily regimen for me. 

Unpacking our white privilege is another step toward packing the wound. What comes next is the part that has mostly been neglected. We need to hold pressure. In medic training, we had to yell “holding pressure” when we packed a wound (fake wounds, albeit, but you get the idea). We had to call attention to our instructors and peers that we were holding pressure on the wound. Holding pressure is simply the continuation of the work. We can’t stop. We want the patient to live, because we don’t want their blood on our hands. So we cannot become complacent, lest that patient bleed out — lest our society, our communities bleed out and become fatalities. 

This is a call to action. Don’t just be “not-racist”; help fight to dismantle any structural racism or effects of it you see in your communities. Speak up, speak out, and act accordingly when it comes time (and with guidance regarding efforts that are needed and which would cause more harm; for that, the Adirondack Diversity Initiative’s Antiracism Series is a resource). Recognize where you have failed to control the bleed, shed any complacency, and hold pressure. Help me recall, when in uniform, what that flag on my right shoulder truly represents. I promise that I will pay it back, and pay it forward, in kind. 

Danyelle Jones lives in Saranac Lake.

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