Anti-Racist Book Club

Members of this University of Maryland Medical Center psychiatry resident-led book club read books across genres that explore issues of race as a means of better understanding ourselves, our patients, and our community. The mission is to foster a foundation for change by developing a forum for dialogue, education, and greater self-awareness. All members of the MPS community are invited to participate! So far, we have read:

What inspired the creation of this anti-racist book club?

As clinicians, we see first-hand the devastating impacts of racism on our patients’ health every single day. We formed this group in recognition of the fact that racism is everyone’s problem and we all have a role to play in ending it. The first step, as we see it, was to build a common vocabulary by exposing ourselves to the views and voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). This spring, we witnessed the tragedies of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. When I heard the audio of George calling out for his mother, I realized just how urgently we needed to respond. While we admit that starting a book club won’t solve racism, we think it’s an important step towards ending the inequalities that we’re up against.

What do you hope will come from this initiative?

We want to create an open and inclusive forum for mental health practitioners, trainees, and students to practice the language of anti-racism. By extension, we hope that the book club helps to foster a cohort of mental health practitioners tuned to the inequalities in our communities, in broader society, and even within the present healthcare system. We need to confront the legacy of racist policies and practices that have led us this critical inflection point, and we feel that the efforts of a community of anti-racist mental health professionals can help.

What is a typical ‘meeting’ like?

It’s very informal – we have no PowerPoint slides or planned activities, but we do start our conversations with some questions prepared by a volunteer mediator. Participants are encouraged to share personal stories that arose when reading sometimes difficult material. Our get-togethers are all video conferences in the evenings, though we hope to introduce in-person meetings as soon as it’s safe to do so responsibly.

How do you choose the books?

It’s a challenge – there are a lot of great books to choose from! I wanted our conversations to be anchored around personal narratives, as these types of texts are not typically featured in medical school. Over the summer, many books that matched this criterion established themselves as “must reads,” so we put this list to the group and we voted on it.  We ended up choosing several anti-racist books with medical themes, which guided our thoughts towards mental health practice. Now that we have had a few meetings, members are suggesting book choices!

What do you hope to generate with your questions?

My biggest hope for our discussions is that we recognize anti-racism work in each other. We want to equip ourselves with the words that clearly define the emotions and experience of our BIPOC patients. When I speak to my parents about these issues, they’ll often say, perturbed, “I thought we fought that battle in the 60’s!” I take this to heart, as I feel that the members of the book club see this moment as a critical step in the multi-generational push towards progress. I hope to generate a shared understanding that we are our own best resource, and in so doing inspire others to join us. To quote RBG, we want to “Fight for the things that [we] care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join [us].”

Why should people join the book club?

I think the best reason to join the club is because we care about the long-term health of our patients and their communities. We see the impact of racism firsthand every day, and Baltimore is right on the front line of this issue. Joining a book club is a small step, but if we want to see big change we’ve got to start our journey.

What have been some meaningful highlights for you as a participant?

Crystal Han, M.D. (Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellow at UMMC/SEPH): Being part of this book club has been an invaluable forum for me to explore the ideas of race and racism with my colleagues and peers in a more intimate and communal setting. It has been a true pleasure and humbling experience to both share and listen to others discuss these difficult topics in a safe, supportive space. I was particularly impacted by our discussion on Metzl’s Protest Psychosis which truly guided me toward conceptualizing formulations in my Black patients differently, through a more informed historical and political perspective. I look forward to many more enlightening discussions that help me grow as a physician, a psychotherapist, an advocate and as an individual.

To join the book club, please contact Ann Marie Gustafson, M.D., M.P.H.