Keep knowing where you stand with public health!

At the end of his book Health and Culture beyond the Western Paradigm, my doctoral advisor ended with these words: ‘To engage in a healthy culture project is to question one’s location constantly, always remembering that wherever something stand, another thing will stand beside it.’ It’s from Chinua Achebe and to him, it meant that there was no one way to doing anything. If there is one point of view, fine, there will be others as well. This to me is at the heart of the problem with they way we write in academia.

By Collins Airhihenbuwa

We have all been trained to use a one dimensional style and form to anything we seek to publish. If we dare to deviate from that style, no matter the topic, then the odds of being rejected are high. In this next phase of my career, I am prepared to offend many Emperors. If your goal is to end racism in health, to decolonize the field as we know, while advocating for those that look like me, many who remain voiceless, then you too would be prepared to offend the Emperor. I want to spend whatever time I have writing from a place of liberation. See when you join the ranks of those whose minds see clearly how what we do actually perpetuates the problem, then you would be infuriated.

The opportunities we have squandered with the public’s health are enormous. They keep looking to us for solutions and we keep giving them papers they can’t read. They keep asking for our interventions and we keep saying wait for the results after the intervention ends. They keep seeking for clarity on what they should do, and we keep drafting protocols. So much assistance could have been given to the public. So much time spent truly elevating their lives, yet all of us in our field spend countless energies writing papers the public will never read. We have been blessed as a field to have resources many dream to have, yet it doesn’t translate to much for people who need this the most.

It’s for them and only them, that I seek to chart a different course. Of course we cannot write in this manner within our journals. We cannot say to any of our editors too that writing as we do is racist and only serves the Emperor and not the people it actually doesn’t represent in his research. If our field is inundated right now with falsehoods and so many misinformation, it’s the bed we unfortunately made. If our writing has only been in service to ourselves, then it should not come as a surprise that folks with their own disingenuous motives will speak to them to the public we have neglected for too long. This isn’t the first time we have experienced a pandemic. There was one over 100 years ago and what if anything did we learn then? The researcher in me has perused through the articles we wrote back then. I have also written about it too here in the past. We remain blinded and weighed down by so much knowledge that serves no one. Too many experts want to speak and speak about what they think the public ought to be doing that they too now sound like a broken record.

These days the only thing keeping me sane are my family, my children and their love for all things that fly, including dogs like paw patrol with skills to save the world and not humans as the world expects. Don’t blame me, paw patrol has a new movie and my kids have ensured that I sit through it as well. I am glad I did. The ability and flexibility of dogs reminded me of why I choose to become a public health researcher and it’s to first serve the public through tough times, through good times and when all seems impossible. I have always know this to be the true calling of our field, one we have neglected for so long.

We are failing the public by not bringing them around to speak in a language they understand. We are failing the public by not telling our stories too of the struggles inherent in our field. We are failing the public by not creating spaces for dialogue, spaces too for radical openness on ways we have actually failed them. We are failing the public by not listening to them. We are failing the public by not looking out for them. The public needs us and we cannot keep neglecting them. The least we can do is be there. I started out by questioning my location within scientific writing. But now, I know where I stand.

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