by Sarah Villafranco, MD
At age 46, I can easily say these last few months have been the most unstable, worrisome, uprooted, and unexpectedly hopeful time I can remember in my history on earth. A global pandemic and the ongoing crisis of racial injustice, in addition to the way in which those two have intersected, have caused me to stop and assess things: my health, my priorities, my biases, and the way I want to show up in this short life.
I grew up in Washington, DC, in the 70s and 80s, when the population was far more black than white. I completed high school, college, medical school, and my residency in DC, working alongside many black colleagues, and caring for a largely black, underserved population in DC and surrounding areas like PG County, Maryland. Because I have always had strong relationships with black friends and coworkers, and because I connected meaningfully with so many of my black patients, I think I convinced myself that racism did not exist within me. But these last few weeks, I see that it does.
Why? Because, while I didn’t ask to be white anymore than my black friends asked to be black, I never recognized or understood how deeply that privilege has affected my life, and how it has been withheld from theirs. Of course, I knew that racism existed, and have always jumped to the defense of my black friends if I saw or heard overtly racist actions or comments. But it was in the details of my life and theirs that I failed to see the differences. I did not recognize that I was generally safe, and they were generally not. I did not appreciate my safety while I was driving my car or going for a run or sleeping in my bed, and I did not see that black people could take none of those simple motions of daily life for granted. It took Chris Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd to shake me permanently out of this unseeingness, which is why I now understand that racism is within me. I should have been awake to these facts, to the reality of systemic racism in America, long ago. And to my black friends and prior colleagues and patients, I’m sorry I have been colorblind. While our heritage and cultures may overlap in places, here is a clear difference between us: you face injustice that I will never—can never—experience firsthand, and I have a privilege that I did not earn. I see it, and I can feel it, and I can listen, and I can learn how to support you and the voices in your community more effectively. Simply put, I will do better.
At Osmia, the team and I believe in equality and justice for all, and we stand firmly in support of the black community in the quest for meaningful change in a very defective system. For us, this means working as a team to research and commit to the many ways in which we can help support the Black Lives Matter movement through our internal work as individuals, as well as our thoughts, words, and actions as a company. This can also include cutting ties with partners, suppliers, or affiliates who do not align with these values. We understand that this commitment does not comprise a single Instagram post or one statement of solidarity. It is a mountain of work, and will be a long, slow climb over time.
I, like many of you, have been listening, writing, meditating, and having conversations around the topic of race in America, and I have been diving deep within myself to understand some things I am long overdue in understanding. I’ve been speaking with my teenage daughters and my husband about the topics of white privilege, police brutality, and mass incarceration. I’ve been examining how my own white privilege has helped me attend good schools, become a doctor, move to these mountains, and build my company, even if accompanied by my own sweat equity. I’ve compiled a list of resources that I’m using for my own growth, which I’ll share below in case it’s helpful. I'm also sharing pieces of my personal life, including this journey, on Instagram at @sarahvillafranco_md if you’re interested in joining me there.
It’s been a very unstable, often scary few months for all of us. Yet, strangely, there are moments and movements of hope. Maybe we will stay closer to home, strengthening our local communities and reducing our footprint on the environment. Maybe we will heal old wounds with friends and family because we are more aware of how fragile and short our lives are. Maybe we will see things from new angles through new lenses, and think before we speak or react to our fellow human beings. Maybe our conversations will be more honest, even if it means we have to poke and prod the boundaries of our comfort. And maybe we will unite in an effort to dismantle and reshape systems that put lives at risk based solely on the color of the skin they’re in.
Thank you for listening, for caring, and for being in community with a company that’s trying to do good in the world, trying to learn and grow, and holding our planet and our fellow humans in a place of deep respect. If there is anything you’d like to see from us as a skincare and wellness brand, or if you have any suggestions to share about expanding our list of resources, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With love and willing work ahead,
To follow on IG:
Me and White Supremacy, by Layla F. Saad
How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
Solitary by Albert Woodfox
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander