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Featured speaker Kendi to pediatricians: Consider racism ‘a diagnosis’ :

October 6, 2020

Editor’s note: For more coverage of the 2020 AAP Virtual National Conference & Exhibition, visit

Pediatricians are critically important to the health of humankind and to our future. But an anti-racist pediatrician is “pure gold,” said Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the Center for Antiracist Research and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University.

Kendi was the featured speaker at the closing plenary of the AAP Virtual National Conference. He discussed anti-racism in health care with Pediatrics On Call podcast hosts David Hill, M.D., FAAP, and Joanna Parga-Belinkie, M.D., FAAP.

He said he has gained significant insight into racism in health care from his wife, Sadiqa Kendi, M.D., FAAP, a pediatric emergency medicine physician.

Acknowledging that conversations about racism can be difficult, Drs. Hill and Parga-Belinkie prompted Kendi to share ways that pediatricians can approach anti-racism in patient care, workplace interactions and their communities.

To make it less uncomfortable, Kendi said pediatricians should consider racism to be a diagnosis. “The reason why I sort of diagnose people or even policies or ideas or communities or institutions as racist is because I want them to heal and I want them to heal through anti-racism.”

A systemic approach to anti-racism is necessary within communities, Kendi said. This includes routinely collecting and analyzing racial data at a clinic as well as data on the health care providers to objectively understand the care that is provided. Over time, the data can provide a bigger picture about disparities in communities and help pinpoint policies, practices and behaviors in need of change, he said.

Kendi said pediatricians face numerous systemic barriers as they work toward becoming anti-racist.

  • Pediatricians in communities with significant health challenges often lack resources. “There's so many people who are dying as a result of racial health disparities. There’s so many people who are dying as a result of COVID-19, as a result of unintentional injuries, as a result of us not providing the most resources to the hospitals that have to take care of the people with the least resources,” he said.
  • Some patients or families exhibiting racism see physicians of color as inferior. “There are many patients who … have a Black or Latinx medical provider (and) somehow feel that they're going to be provided inferior care from that medical provider or who believe that a White medical provider is his superior. … That’s a very important question that we need to figure out a way to address,” he said.
  • White pediatricians need to support pediatricians of color in anti-racist work. “If you're not stepping up to be involved in anti-racist work in your establishment and you see those people of color stepping up, then you’re essentially burdening them,” he said.

Pediatricians cannot tackle racism alone, Kendi said. To truly make an institution anti-racist requires the support of the entire medical community as well as social workers, law enforcement and others.

“It’s critical for every single one of us to realize in order to make this nation anti-racist, we all have to play our part,” he said. “If we were to ever truly make this nation anti-racist, we build a much better and more healthy community for all people, especially our children.”

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