Director's Message: Structural Racism and Bias

We confront cancer every day, but that is not enough.

The exasperating death of George Floyd by the very direct and intentional action of a white Minneapolis police officer, with a well-documented, and tolerated repeated abusive activity, reflects unacceptable attitudes and deflection of underlying systemic racism and both conscious and unconscious bias in our daily lives. Spurred by this, our own community has protested and risked COVID exposure to communicate a deep and long-standing frustration with these broad and deep inequalities.

We have read and voiced concerns, shared empathetic commitments to do better and to appreciate our differences but perhaps even that is not enough.

Last year, the cancer center, through the leadership of our Community Advisory Board, and Monica Webb Hooper, sponsored a conference on structural racism and unconscious bias. These are terms we might think we understand, until we confront how deep these feelings are, and how pervasive they are. Our focus then was on cancer care, and clinical trial accrual, but the shortcomings are universal. Perhaps that is why tolerance to these long-standing perceptions influence daily activities, even as we might wish to be seen as fair and blind to race or status.

So, as we confront cancer every day, as practitioners, researchers, patients and educators, please take the time to consider your own perceptions and how better attention to individual and collective inequities in our thoughts, activities and decisions will begin to shift this very deep and negative bias towards a more considered and equitable future.

Stan Gerson, MD
Director, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center