With the recent events, there has been a growing enthusiasm for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work within medicine. In surgery, the effects of systemic racism are evident in the current workforce and continue to be striking to those experiencing it on a daily basis. There continues to be a lack of representation of Black, Hispanic, and American Indian surgeons based on US population demographics. When looking at higher ranks and leadership positions, the diversity and representation is even more notably absent.
When DEI committees are formed, Asian Americans have been made to feel that their need for these committees is unsubstantiated, citing “over-representation.” Despite representation in academics, Asian American applicants are very vulnerable to discrimination. There has been an implication that Asian Americans are not as well rounded as other candidates, as seen with the recent District Court ruling regading the admissions process of Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia and in the Student’s for Fair Admissions, INC v. President and Fellows of Harvard College cases and that their greatest merit lies in test scores, which is untrue.
As Asian Americans, we have a unique shared experience in medicine and surgery that is often untold and unseen. This gives many the false impression of Asian Americans as a privileged class that has sublimated beyond racism.
The narrative of the Asian American experience as one of privilege creates a sense of guilt for Asians on DEI committees not wanting to take attention. Yet, Asian Americans still face overt racism and discrimination which continue to be fueled by the events such as 9/11, and more recently COVID-19 pandemic; and more subtle racism such as continually not being chosen for leadership roles across disciplines.
Therefore, with the current spotlight on DEI issues, it is crucial we take this opportunity to speak up. The answer is not only for Asian Americans to show solidarity with marginalized groups working towards DEI, but to also tell our own narrative. Not feel ashamed to serve as an advocate for, and to be an active voice in DEI groups. This last year, SAAS partnered with Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago and offered a virtual Bystander Intervention to provide our members with the tools to intervene for all forms of discrimination, we find these sessions to be valuable and hope to offer future sessions.
As a small first step, we encourage everyone to begin by sharing their stories with each other and their trainees. It will make It easier to bring a collective voice to your local DEI group or committee. For additional support, we also strongly recommend getting involved with SAAS. Standing at the intersection of privilege and discrimination, together we can speak truth to power.