Dear Editor: Racism and medicine—a toxic mix; decertify the ranting doctor

“[…] The sentiments expressed in such outbursts are not new. They are getting much broader exposure due to the nature of social media that is widely available. Our society cannot continue moving towards that precipice, more dangerous in a time when Covid and increasing economic challenges are pushing us to the edge…”

The following response to leaked recordings of racist comments allegedly made by a San Fernando medical doctor was submitted to Wired868 by Khafra Kambon of the Emancipation Support Committee of Trinidad and Tobago:

Photo: Dr Avinash Sawh at press conference apologising for racist rant (via cnc3.co.tt)

The Emancipation Support Committee of Trinidad and Tobago (ESCTT) is looking forward to the decertification of the medical doctor at a private clinic in San Fernando whose abusive behaviour, anti-African racist language and racist sentiments have been strongly condemned by citizens and organisations throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

His behaviour and sentiments would be abhorrent under any circumstances but given his profession and the faith which people who need medical care would put in him, such racist convictions become dangerous. In his recorded rant against Africans generally, he insulted two groups of local professionals, specifically nurses—making it clear that Africans must not be hired as nurses in his clinic—and police officers, whom he called ‘dunce’—a charge which in the context of his statement, seemed to be an extension of the racial slur.

Inaction or delayed action at this time is not an option. Urgent action from the responsible authorities is necessary both to protect the public from the potential dangers to persons who may unknowingly place their trust in this doctor (who remains unnamed in the formal media) or otherwise find themselves in his care.

In this regard, we applaud the quick action of Minister Terrence Deyalsingh to refer the matter to the Council of the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago. The public is looking forward to the revocation of this doctor’s license. There should be no place for someone filled with such hate and bias to practice his profession on people of any ethnicity.

Photo: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh addresses journalists during a virtual media conference on 7 May 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Our concern about the reported outburst goes beyond the individual, however. This is not the first such incident of a racist rant in the public domain that the country has experienced within the last few months. The post-election period produced some of the most inflammatory outbursts on social media, the most venomous and degrading of which were aimed at Africans.

The sentiments expressed in such outbursts are not new. They are getting much broader exposure due to the nature of social media that is widely available. Our society cannot continue moving towards that precipice, more dangerous in a time when Covid and increasing economic challenges are pushing us to the edge.

The doctor’s outburst reinforces what everyone in the society is aware of, but which has not been addressed with the urgency it requires. We live in a society where ethnic groups are influenced by deeply rooted negative stereotypes about each other. Prejudices about race and colour are substantially informed by the historical experiences of slavery and indentureship.

These oppressive experiences are re-enforced by miseducation, mass media, mythologies, religious beliefs, prejudices and artistic representations of divinity that degrade or diminish the Black complexion. Up to the present, the information which could correct historical distortions is missing particularly at the foundational stages of formal education. Our mass media is also lacking in that regard.

Photo: Activist Abeo Jackson takes part in black lives movement demonstration outside the US Embassy in 2020.

While we utterly condemn the statements and actions of the doctor and expect the appropriate punishment, therefore, the ESCTT, recognising the depth of the challenges, calls on those in authority to tackle the overarching problem. There has to be a systematic, multilayered approach to overcoming the cultural prejudices and racism that are eating away at society.

Our organisation possesses internal skills and the capacity to mobilise necessary human resources to address the challenges at multiple levels and assist relevant institutions in this regard. We would welcome discussions with the medical board to discuss ways in which their members can benefit from racial sensitivity training to increase their cultural competency.

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