Scientific writing, it seems, bears no light. It neither disrupts nor challenges darkness. It often curtails imagination and creativity. It denigrates writing that expose, move against, or cross boundaries. Ultimately, it fails to see and surmise a longing often revealed in privacy—that our tools are colonized. Nothing we write can help us be free from mastering dominant Eurocentric values, often implied as the right values for everyone. This includes individual manuscripts and their subsections, implied as favorable for comprehension and a legitimate format to express and co-create knowledge. Many scientific scholars are inclined to be persuaded by these values. Others remain silent. However, from time to time, voices of doubt will emerge insisting also to be heard, insisting that our thinking includes the humanity of the people we serve or the formation of community. For many scholars like me, that time is now. When you encourage contributions from scholars from marginalized racial and ethnic groups, be prepared for the uneasiness ahead.
Scientific publications have been brimming with a void for a long time. It cannot be erased with a singular or multiple call for papers, an idea whose time has come and gone. It also cannot be moved by a request for ideas to tackle racism and inequity in health, another idea gone in the histories of so many requests to do the impossible by researchers alone. When the voices of people systematically excluded from publishing in scientific journals have been ignored, trivialized, dismissed, or buried, then be prepared not only with redressing power imbalance but to first not see anyone as voiceless or powerless. Racial and ethnic groups maybe marginalized from scientific writing, but they have voice. They also have power that can deepen understanding of and strengthening our ability to advance discourse, dialogue, and action to promote health equity. We have been inspiring and galvanizing a movement towards justice in scientific writing, opening ourselves to our creative powers, as we embrace other forms and styles of writing as acts of liberation. We know that our livelihoods depend on the people we serve, the people that look like me, and the people who have been looking out for me all along. We have no words if not for theirs. The question then is not whether to include voices of people experiencing health inequities or to celebrate their stories of success but rather how particular people resolved these issues at specific times, even via a burst of light. It is for them that we share the following:
Why public health needs a burst of light
We have spent eons,
speaking ill of the public.
across people and places
Publishing like maniacs
constantly under attack
Writing things that offer little hope
Not even an open-eyed assessment
Of starry skies or full moons
That have never failed to light
Even in the absence of stars
The plight of the public,
every single night.
We devise missions
That are neither life-affirming
Nor genuine with learning
And fails to offer anything close to hope.
Not in 3000 words
Or in our editorials or forewords.
Not in the spaces we save for debate
Nor with aims we claim to narrate
Nothing in what we translate
Ultimately helps the public to create
the radical healing it deserves to formulate.
Like withered leaves, their hope in us
Slowly begins to dissipate.
We hopelessly wander around,
Chasing winds still out of scope
For impact factors and their appeal
On the many ways the public is defective
Full of disparities or deficits
Never full of assets or infinite depths
We know the public has in its defense
This privilege serves only our mandate
No matter how much we berate
That our regressed data correlates
Even, the public knows, it doesn’t.
Like people still with no hope,
We continue to speak ill at will
While the public remains mute
As knowledge piles high
like grains in a chicken’s coop
This knowledge is used
As pursuits that deplete
Pursuits that deceive,
Pursuits that dispute
All we know the public can truly execute.
Even chickens fare way better
than the public, in their coop.
If we are writing or speaking in a style that now seems different,
It’s because the public needs us to urgently be different
The public needs us to put them back into the business of health
Not corporations or open sources
Now in the business of defining what we publish at a cost
And not with language or style
That continues to oppress the very public we claim to serve.
We approach this now, with intensity for the public.
To tell their stories, so their real world becomes real
Not as methods, or results or discussions in disguise
But to keep the promise we made to mobilize
Every resource that neither randomize
Nor summarizes their lives,
As only data worthy to theorize
For when we seek approvals, they approve.
When we speak of their lives with our data, they speak as well.
Even when we act, they act to heal their lives.
They do so, knowing we belong to them.
And will not keep mum,
Despite their education or income
Yet our papers or presentations
Never live up to the promises we made when we began.
I imagine the time has come for a “burst of light” with public health.
Audre Lorde described this “burst of light” as an inescapable knowledge.
It is metabolized and integrated into the fabric of the public’s being
Sustained and empowered by the public too
Who lend their strength and insight back to the public
For the battle to uncover the light within the public.
Like clear moonlight that disturb the stillness of the night
Is a fight we are prepared to do with all our might.
This is an urgent task we take,
To demand, that we all put the public first
A task we recognize that must be articulated and answered
For as long as we remain in the service of the public’s health.
We are in pursuit of an inescapable knowledge,
A burst of light with knowledge that humanizes the public
Knowledge that uses language to uplift the public
Knowledge that uses tools to unite the public
Knowledge that uses mediums that are urgent for the public.
Knowledge that last in communion with the public.
For the public can no longer wait for us to uncover its possibilities
Uncover this inescapable knowledge within its worldview
It’s a renaissance so long overdue
Our goal, to help the public achieve its breakthrough
We call this a burst of light
We use LIGHT to announce our debut.