Dr. Gail Christopher: Jettison Racism and the Hierarchy of Human Value

Gail Christopher
8 min readJan 20, 2021

Virtual Message Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the National Day of Racial Healing

Dr. Gail C. Christopher, executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity, delivered a critical message on racial healing to the nation, celebrating the 5th Annual National Day of Racial Healing. This is a transcript of her message. Share on Facebook.

Hello. Do you know it’s hard to believe that it’s actually been five years since we launched the National Day of Racial Healing. I have to offer our deep gratitude to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and all of the community partners that work together to create the concept of a day allocated to the critical work of overcoming and eliminating racism through the process of racial healing. So, it has been five years, it is our fifth annual National Day of Racial Healing.

Now, we designed this day to come after the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. And every four years, it would come just before an inauguration day. This particular year is unique. Because we know our country needs healing, needs racial healing, more now than perhaps ever before, but certainly, more than in this century and in our lifetimes.

So, I want to thank you for taking some time to be together today. I’m going to define what I mean by racial healing, and share with you some of the amazing lessons that the work is teaching us, and invite you to make a commitment to become engaged in this very important work.

When we say racial healing, we’re really talking about eliminating racism. I’m a star Trek fan, so I’ll use my favorite word from that series, which is to jettison. You know, when they jettison something from the Enterprise, it’s gone forever. And so, we need to jettison the fundamental fallacy, the permission to believe in a false hierarchy of human value.

Some people think that the work of changing people’s beliefs is soft work. But I’ve learned, after decades of work as a social change agent, I’ve learned that our beliefs, our most deeply-held beliefs, they drive our decisions, they drive our behaviors, our actions, because they create our thoughts and our feelings. Our feelings create the motion of our lives. And that was certainly made clear to us recently with the atrocious and unbelievable insurrection and attack, violent attack on our nation’s capital.

If we ever had any doubt that beliefs matter, that day, Wednesday, January 6, should have cemented in our minds the power or of belief. And we know that what we believe and how we react to those beliefs, it’s shaped by the narratives that we hear. Some people in positions of authority and power, they know how significant narratives are to drive and shape belief and behaviors. We have to know that as the citizens, as the people who make up this nation.

And if we’re ever really going to end racism in this country, we have to understand that what we have to do is change our fundamental conceptual framework about relationship, about how we relate to one another as human beings. And as long as we allow this backdrop of a disparity, and inequity, and the dignity, and the respect, and the value that human beings are to be accorded and afforded, we will continue to have racial injustice.

Now, I heard a brilliant young activist say recently that we have to get over this notion that overcoming racism and racial equity and racial justice has anything to do with how people treat each other, doesn’t have anything to do with whether people are mean to each other or not. And I take issue with that. I think that particular statement captures this other fallacy that we have, which is that we have this dichotomy, you’re either going to do policy work or you’re going to do what’s called relational work, and one or the other. But we don’t have that luxury of that false dichotomy.

You see, we have to do both. Because it was individuals that rioted, and attacked, and invaded the capital. It was an individual that inspired, and motivated, and cajoled, and incited them to do that. It’s individuals who pull the triggers, unjustly, that killed disproportionately black men and women. It’s individuals that make decisions in hospital waiting rooms sometimes that are not equitable and fair. It’s individuals in classrooms that may not educate appropriately, and may expel, and discipline, and suspend inappropriately children of color.

Now, some people say you’ve got to change the systems only. When you change the systems, well suddenly, we’ll have equity. But I’ve lived long enough to have been a part of many systems changes to only see those changes reversed when the political winds shifted.

And so, I say to you from the bottom of my heart, we have to do both. We have to build a critical mass of people, of individuals, of communities, of voices who will stand up for justice and fairness. Because they know that it is right, not only for ourselves, not only for our communities and our immediate gain, but we have to draw from the wisdom of indigenous leaders who know its part of their culture to think and project how will their actions today affect seven generations in the future.

We have to have that kind of compassion and caring, that kind of wisdom. And we have to know that what we put in place today, we have to know that it will assure equity and fairness for future generations, as well as for current generations. And in order to do that, we have to dramatically shift our collective narrative. And that means telling the truth.

I was very proud, in my last year at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to be part of launching a truth effort for this country. Now, frequently, those efforts around the world are called truth and reconciliation efforts. We knew that for America, it would be a false narrative to say reconciliation. I’ll talk about that a little bit.

The obvious connotation of reconciliation is coming back together. And so often these types of efforts are initiated in governments that have been factionalized by war, and fractured by war, and the parties are trying to come back together, and to reconcile their differences, and to compromise, and to appease the different perspectives.

We knew before America, A, there could be no appeasement, no appeasing the fallacy of a hierarchy of human value. We knew that this had been embedded for centuries, that it was in the DNA of this country. And so therefore, we had to tell that truth. We also had to heal from the harm that is caused by that exposure to that fallacy. And then we had to transform our consciousness, our narratives, our relationships, and our fundamental systems that continue to perpetuate inequity.

So, the effort is called Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation. The acronym is TRHT. And it is happening all over this country. And again, my heartfelt gratitude to the board, to the CEO of the Kellogg Foundation, to the leaders of, I think, about 40 foundations around the country, who stepped up and partnered with the Kellogg Foundation in launching this national effort of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation.

I must also applaud the visionary leadership of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and most recently, Senator Cory Booker, as they created a resolution and introduced it in Congress, and mobilized well over 180 co-sponsors, calling for a national U.S Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Commission.

We recently introduced that concept to the incoming administration. And it was well-received. Of course, there are so many priorities that this administration must face, so many crises, but we’d like to reinforce and to reiterate the primacy of this work, this work of enabling a new belief system, a new way of engaging each other.

Abraham Lincoln said, on the eve of the Civil War, that all things are possible if we have the public’s will. And that’s what racial healing is about. It’s about building the public will to say no to hatred, to saying no to the various extremist groups, to say no to the consequences of hatred, both at the extreme and in the more subtle ways in terms of our hierarchies of opportunity.

So, this is our work. This is the work of America. And right now, America has been shamed and humiliated publicly around the world globally. I think one way we can come out of the shame is to embrace the truth, the good, and the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. And truly begin a national effort to heal.

So, when we say racial healing, we should also understand that healing is not a deficit frame. Healing is the most beautiful example of the grace and the generosity of nature and the wisdom of the universe. The body heals itself continuously. It restores itself to balance. It’s the imperative. It’s the imperative of our human body. And I believe it’s an imperative of our nation that we heal ourselves, and that we restore ourselves to the balance, the balance that enables us to see ourselves in the face of each other.

We are two-legged mammals. And our very existence, our very livingness, if you will, and I’m making up that word, but our permission to be alive is wrapped up in the affirmation that we receive from other human beings from the moment that we are born. If you deprive an infant of the grace and the beauty of the mother’s loving smile, and embrace, and touch, that infant will not thrive.

So, this notion of human connection is fundamental to our existence. And as a result, it is core to our state of health and wellbeing. And as we continue to be exposed to the vicissitudes and the oppressions that come from believing in racial hierarchy, we set up the conditions for illness and disease. And that’s why we think the prescription for healing for this country is very much a prescription for overcoming and getting rid of the permission to believe in racism and replacing it, right now, today, with a deep revisiting and returning to the knowledge of our sacred interconnectedness, interdependence, our sacred need for one another, as human beings.

I could say much more about the skills that we need to do this. My hope today was to share my passion and invite you to prioritize this work. To find it within your resolutions for this new year to say no. And to overcome the fallacies that have led us to this degree of division, and isolation, and separation. And if we joined together to do that, if each of us does, I think America can heal, and we can minimize the voices of hatred and optimize the voices of caring, and love, and compassion. Which will then assure justice and fairness.

Find a way to celebrate this amazing fifth annual National Day of Racial Healing, by having hope, by believing in us and in our imperative to evolve and develop and remain one nation, united.

Thank you.

Dr. Gail C. Christopher is executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity. Dr. Christopher, one of the nation’s leading advocates for racial healing, called on America to jettison racism and the false hierarchy of human value. She was instrumental in launching the day while working at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a philanthropic organization she applauded for supporting and attracting hundreds of thousands of participants in the day over the years. Follow her at @DrGCChristopher.

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Gail Christopher

Gail Christopher is executive director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity and architect of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation vision.