The Gardener's Tale, Dr. Camara Jones

Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD

Dr. Jones is currently Research Director on Social Determinants of Health and Equity within the Division of Adult and Community Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Trained as a family physician and epidemiologist, her body of work focuses on the impacts of racism on the health and wellbeing of the nation. Dr. Jones was Assistant Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in the Department of Health and Social Behavior, the Department of Epidemiology, and the Division of Public Health Practice from 1994 to 2000. She currently serves on the National Board of Public Health Examiners, and formerly served on the Executive Board of the American Public Health Association, the Board of Directors of the American College of Epidemiology, and the Board of Directors of the National Black Women's Health Project.

For Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, the response to that question has been germinating for many years. A family physician and epidemiologist by training, Dr. Jones' lifelong passion has been naming and addressing the impacts of racism on the health and wellbeing of the nation.

In a 2002 videotaped interview for the CityMatCH Annual Urban MCH Leadership Conference, Dr. Jones shared a simple yet remarkably profound allegory she grew and nurtured to help people come to a place of understanding about the many layers and nuances of institutionalized, personally-mediated, and internalized racism.

This link will direct you to a video presentation on her allegory, "A Gardener's Tale."
*The video file is 48MB. It is recommended to right click and click "Save target as" to your computer and watch it.

The written allegory continues here: "...the gardener notices that the red flowers flourish while the pink flowers languish, but has forgotten her original decision to separate the seeds into the two types of soil. Instead, she proclaims "I was right to prefer red over pink!".

Institutionalized racism is illustrated by the initial separation of the seed into the two types of soil, the flower boxes which keep the soil separate, and the inaction in the face of need by the gardener who fails to fertilize or mix up the soils. Personally-mediated racism is exemplified when the gardener, viewing pink as inferior to red, plucks a pink blossom before it can even go to seed. Internalized racism is exemplified by a pink flower saying to an approaching bee, "Don't bring me any of that pink pollen - I prefer the red!" because the pink flower has internalized the belief that red is inherently better than pink.

Dr. Jones believes that to "set things right" in the garden, society must fully address institutionalized racism, even as we also address personally-mediated and internalized racism. Indeed, if we at least address institutionalized racism, the other levels of racism may take care of themselves.

(Editor's Note: used with permission)

Additional Resource: Jones CP. Levels of Racism: A Theoretic Framework and a Gardener's Tale. Am J Public Health 2000;90(8):1212-1215. Used with Permission. All rights reserved©