White Coats and Black Lives: The Internal Struggle Black Physicians Face
When I read about Dr. Tamika Cross’ experience of being blatantly disrespected by a flight attendant on Delta Airlines, my heart was broken, but I was not surprised. Being a black female physician of 15 years, I’ve had my share of disheartening discriminating moments from subtle spoken micro-aggressions to outright racial condescension. However, this incident comes only days after being requested to lead a diversity workshop because a group of black students were reprimanded by their professor for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement by simply wearing black t-shirts and gathering to take a picture. I must call ENOUGH!
We as physicians are all here because of the bridges we have crossed. And just as have our white counterparts, black physicians have all paid our dues in blood, sweat, tears, long calls, sleepless nights, skipped meals, empty stomachs, full bladders, miracle moments, near misses, and lost patients. We have all cried in the middle of the night, questioned ourselves, contemplated quitting, and pushed ourselves beyond imagined human capacity.
Yet it seems that at every turn we are being questioned. It seems that our credentials, our intelligence, and our skillsets are being underestimated. Yet, when our skills are needed, we are called upon and in those moments we must put aside our feelings and biases and take care of business because we are doctors and that’s what we do.
I was recently sharing with a colleague about how I fear for the lives of my two year old son and his father every time I drop him off for his weekend away from me. I often think about with dread my son getting older and having to teach him how to stay alive when stopped by a police officer. Yet, if a police officer walks into my office, I am expected to put away my fears, my feelings, and my biases and operate with the utmost integrity, caring and concern, while in the back of my mind I wonder, “would this officer show this same concern, care, or respect for my son if he came across him on the street 15 years from now, or would he be the one to pull the trigger?” I’m not saying that all officers must pay for the sins of their brothers, but I am saying that as a black female physician, I am expected to deal with things for which my white physician counterparts (male and female) have no context. There are circumstances, stressors, and biases that will never be experienced by them simply because of the color of their skin. They won’t fear raising their sons and daughters for fear of them being shot dead by someone who just assumed they were “up to no good.” They will not experience having their credentials questioned in an emergent situation because they don’t “look like they could be a doctor”. They will likely not be turned away by a patient, be called “miss” or “nurse” after introducing themselves as “doctor” because of the color of their skin. All of this is an added stressor that we as black physicians deal with on top of the normal daily stresses of being a doctor, and all we are looking for is that our voices be heard, recognized and respected.
It is 2016, and I say the illusion of what we have called progress over the last 60 or so years has simply been remodeled and repackaged. What was outright discrimination, has taken the form of subtle “psychological programming”, and we ALL are dealing with the consequences. I do not know what the solution is, or where we even go from here, but I do know that All lives truly won’t matter until Black lives do. We are not just talking about dead black men on the street anymore. We are talking about psychological warfare and mental slavery, and it is time all parties wake up before we find ourselves in a revolution of epic proportion.
Maiysha Clairborne MD is an integrative medicine physician who blogs at thestressfreemd.com, and is the author of The Wellness Blueprint and Eat Your Disease Away.