I thought quite a while before writing a response regarding the recent JAVMA News story1 on being an active ally for those who are racially or ethnically underrepresented in veterinary medicine. My issue is related to some of the items discussed by Dr. Allen Cannedy as examples of racist behaviors and phrases.
I certainly agree that people who state that their animals don't like Black people, intentionally mispronounce names, or use racial slurs are ignorant, racist, or both, but I believe such people are in a distinct minority in the veterinary profession. Most veterinarians do not think that people are dangerous on the basis of their race or ethnicity or that minorities dislike animals. Some veterinarians may be guilty of offering less costly treatment options based on the assumption that a client may not be able to afford more costly options, but in my almost 50 years of practice, I have found that it is typically the low- and middle-income clients who want to provide the best care for their pets and that it is the higher-income clients who sometimes won't spend the money for those better options.
That said, I believe that members of the veterinary profession who honestly say that “when I look at you, I don't see color” or that “all lives matter” should not automatically be considered racist, and I vehemently deny that assumption with regard to me. I need more convincing evidence to believe there is still systemic racism in the veterinary profession that needs to be rooted out or that special programs or committees are needed to deal with it.
William Bender, dvm
Granada Hills, Calif
1. Mattson K. Veterinary leaders discuss how to combat racism, be an ally. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2021;258:338–339.
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Back in the early part of the last century, my grandparents lived in Stratton, Colo, a tiny town on the eastern edge of the state. During that time, the Ku Klux Klan saw a resurgence in the United States, especially in the west and Midwest, and Stratton was no exception. According to family history, the local KKK chapter decided to hold a march through town one day. They dressed in their full regalia, lit a cross, and headed down the street. Well, when Grandma Mae saw the marchers, she laughed loudly and picked up her garden hose, putting out their cross and splashing mud on their white uniforms, proclaiming “That's gonna get you in trouble with your wives, boys!”
For so many of us, those are still the images we conjure up when we hear the words racist and racism: burning crosses, marches, hoods, and robes. It's not surprising then that our hackles might be raised when it sounds like someone is accusing us of being racist.
But racism is more than that.
You know who says, “I don't see color”? White people. You know who doesn't say, “I don't see color”? Black people. Black people see color every day; it's an integral and inescapable part of their lives. Because of their race. And, sure, all lives matter, but as others have explained, saying “all lives matter” as a counterpoint to “Black lives matter” is like looking at the one house in the neighborhood that is on fire and proclaiming that all houses matter. It glosses over the obstacles Black people face, in this country and in this profession. Because of their race.
So, maybe it's time to rethink our definitions and let those affected by racism tell us what it means. Maybe, even though we intend to be sincere and honest, we don't say things like “I don't see color” and “all lives matter,” simply because our Black colleagues tell us such phrases are hurtful and unhelpful.
And, maybe we don't ask our Black colleagues to convince us that systemic racism exists. Maybe we simply believe them. And offer to help. For what are veterinarians better at than providing help?
Kurt J. Matushek, dvm, ms