Friday, June 28, 2013

Identity theft.

It's been a while
I'm not who I was before
You look surprised
your words don't burn me anymore
Been meaning to tell you
but I guess it's clear to see
Don't be mad--it's just a brand new kind of me
Can't be bad--I found a brand new kind of free
~ Alicia Keys.

An elderly woman was perched on the end of a bedside chair. Her neck was layered in pearls and her stocking-covered legs were crossed tightly at the ankles. Perhaps it was a bit too humid for the high-end suit she was wearing but it did match her severe chignon and carefully applied makeup. The ring fingers on both hands were adorned with sparkling diamond rings.

All of it oozing of privilege.

In walked a team of doctors. All in hospital-issued scrubs and white coats. One person leading them in a longer white coat called shots while the others immediately began doing the things that younger doctors and student doctors do. They were caring for the patient in concert as that nattily dressed matriarch looked on.

And all of it was fine and good. It was.

Then, one of those team members stepped toward the side of the bed near that chair. This young student doctor with a beautiful cocoa complexion and hair pulled back into an equally elegant bun. The only difference is that hers involved a network of African braids. And this student doctor, my advisee, made careful, confident eye contact with the patient and also her loved one.

And all of that part was fine and good, too.

That women glanced over at that student doctor and offered her a tight-lipped smile. Swinging those same crossed legs sideways, she twisted her torso and reached out for the bedside rolling table. In one subtle motion, she then nudged it in the direction of that young student doctor. The Coco-esque one gestured toward the cocoa-complexioned one and spoke in a gravelly, Southern voice.

"Are you here to pick up the lunch tray?" she asked.

And that student, who (like her colleagues) was holding gauze in her hands and who was dressed identically to the five other caregivers in that room, looked around from side to side to confirm that this woman in her St. John's suit was speaking to someone else.

Problem is, she wasn't.

"Excuse me?" My advisee gave that reply quietly--yet deliberately. And she did that because she wanted to give this woman the benefit of the doubt. Like, she didn't want to be "that person" -- you know, the one that immediately thinks that all things are rooted in some racial slight. This was the point where that woman was supposed to turn beet red and then vehemently apologize for mistaking this young doctor-to-be who was clad in the same tell-tale uniform as the others as something she wasn't.


Let's be clear. There is nothing wrong with being the person who IS responsible for retrieving lunch trays. Nothing at all. But it hurt my heart when my student told me about this moment and it hurt my heart even more to realize that here we are in the sixth month of two thousand and thirteen with a black family in the White House for the second term in a row. . . a family that includes two grown black people-- both of whom graduated from Harvard freaking Law no less -- and that this brilliant and accomplished woman (who also happens to be an alum of an equally prestigious undergraduate institution) had to be sized up in this way. As less than her potential. As what this woman perhaps deemed as "the help."

And yes. That was more about that woman and her limited world view than my student. And yes, perhaps people like her and maybe Paula Deen really are good souls at their very center which I will not argue. But even when you know things like that and can tell yourself such things, it's hard.

It is.

And no. I was not there physically. I wasn't. But from the way she told me that story, I feel like I was. I feel like I was there and, in a way, I was there since I've had similar experiences myself.


You know? On the bright side, I feel proud that there was a mechanism for my advisee to process this. That she had my cell phone number and that without flinching, she knew that it was okay to text me and call me to talk about this critical incident. Yes, this critical incident. This critical incident that pretty much flew under the team's radar or at least was not made to be the critical incident that it was. Partly because these things happen more than folks realize. And when they do, sometimes you realize that on that day you are just too tired to go marching on Washington. Or that you have exams or just shit on your mind or just . . .just. . .yeah.

Grrrr. I keep replaying it all in my head. Over and over, you know. Wishing I could find that woman and say things like:

No, lady. My student was NOT there to get the damn lunch tray. She was there to do what every other one of those people who happened to look like you and not her were there to do. And let me tell you, lady, that if she WAS there to get that tray that she still would have been equally as amazing and wonderfully and fearfully made. Which means that whether she was a future physician or not, she was just as good as you.

Maybe even better considering that ignorant comment.

Ignorant. That's what it was. And yes, I am rambling and unpacking because there is just stuff on my mind. Stuff that relates to my race and what it means and how it feels to sometimes be looked through instead of at. Or when someone doesn't realize what it means to someone like me to even have these opportunities or to get to this point. A point where my name gets recorded next to accolades previously not given to people of color and how it feels when the magnitude of it all is not realized.

By others that is.

Sometimes it's subtle like someone just sort of shrugging off some big thing that has happened. Or like them not even noticing that the big thing that has happened was big -- not just because it was big but because in context of who you are that makes it even bigger. And also bigger than just you.

Yes. That. Like how it feels when I see Michelle Obama walking across a stage. It is more than just the fact that she is smart and confident and amazing. For me, it is more. And it gets all weird when you start trying to explain all that to people, you know? Explain how it feels to see her and what it says to me about my own potential. But then there is this hope that I can find a way to communicate that. To communicate that it's not just that she is the awesome First Lady but that she is an African-American woman, too. And that's a big deal. A really, big fucking deal.

Sorry for the f-bomb.

Yes, lady. Haven't you turned on a television? Or opened your eyes? Or have you simply assigned Michelle Obama as some kind of alien, not applicable to all of the little sisters running behind her on the trail that she and others like her are blazing every single day?

Sigh. I don't know. I don't.

Oh, and in case you're wondering? When my student clarified who that woman was talking to? The Coco-esque one let her know that it was exactly what my student perceived it to be. That, in this woman's mind, the only reason why a young black woman would be at her loved one's bedside was to clear the lunch tray out of the room.

I'm not sure what I would have said if I had been there. I'm not. But knowing me, I would have wanted to say something. And it would have likely been fueled by anger and would not have involved any part of the high road, that's for sure. Which is probably why I would have just ended up saying nothing once I thought it through.


But right now? This is what I'm mostly saying. And what I'm saying is to myself and to my student and not that woman at all:

"Don't be mad. Be excellent."

And as someone striving to be excellent, I'd want that lady in her Coco Chanel baubles to know that I'm not above either moving a lunch tray or at least finding who can -- especially if it makes the person lying in that hospital bed feel more at ease. But I'm also not beneath being the one trained and qualified to be that same patient's doctor. No, ma'am, I am not. And I won't let someone else reduce me--or any of my learners--to feeling anything otherwise. No matter how much privilege that someone else knows. Because that? That's the worst kind of identity theft there is.

Yeah, man.

Now excuse me while I focus on my patients. And my potential.

I'll leave you with words from another really cool First Lady:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

~ Eleanor Roosevelt.


That's all I got today. Thanks for listening, okay?

Happy Friday. 

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . .

(And no, this didn't happen at Grady. But really, it could have happened anywhere.)


  1. Amen... well said. I'll be sharing this with some people that is for sure because too many have no clue that these are the things that have been deeply imbedded into the system. Injustice, prejudice, racism and sometimes it isn't nearly as blunt as that lady, which I don't know what is worse... thank you for stayin' real.
    Also I met a fellow at my hospital who worked with you at Grady during his residency I believe. Said he only met you briefly but it made me smile when I heard he spent time at Grady and then found out he knew you... such a small world. :)

    1. Wow. It is a super, duper small world, isn't it? Tell that fellow that he'd better not embarrass me out there! Ha ha ha.

      Hope you are well, little sister!

  2. You know, maybe it's just smack-down time. Paula Deen got hers and I don't say that in a mean way- it's just the truth. As long as people are given the benefit of the doubt because they're older and "have good hearts" they're going to feel like they can get away with this shit. Obviously, subtlety does not work for them. Subtlety like, oh yeah, having an African American president and First Lady. Like the laws being changed for fifty years or whatever. Nah, that stuff can just be ignored. So maybe they need a real, true, smack-down. I'm sorry. I'm just tired of crap like this. And since I'm white, I can only imagine how the victims of such thinking feel.

    1. I know, right? And I do feel encouraged knowing that for every ignorant person, I can name someone in my life who is attentive and "gets it" and who would be equally appalled by that lunch tray incident.

      I love you, Sister Moon! Hope the family strep is on the mend!

  3. I am 53, born and raised in the south, and it hurts my heart that this crap still happens. I keep thinking that surely we're past that now. But oh, I love your response to her, "Don't be mad. Be excellent". Thank you for sharing with us.

    1. Yep. Being mad is like you drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It doesn't make much sense. So I channel that energy into something more meaningful. Like writing. Like giving. Like trying. I think "excellent" is attainable. At least I hope so.

  4. Ignorant and mean is what it was! That lady knew what she was saying...she knew that doctor was not there to pick up the lunch tray. Sad...

    1. Yeah. The sad part is that I think she kind of did.

  5. What I don't understand is what rock has that woman been sitting under? What planet did she just drop off of? I mean even if she didn't recognize who Michelle Obama, she's sitting in an Atlanta hospital (or so I'm assuming). I've been a patient in quite a few of them. There is no way you can look around and not understand that all those people are not cleaning the rooms. Seriously? And is she better than them. The recovery room nurse when I had my port-a-cath removed introduced herself to me when she heard where I work. She was the wife of the CFO of UPS. She was there because she wanted to be. Seriously, I just don't understand how it is possible for that woman to be that mistaken.

    1. That's because you get it, Lisa. Some people don't.

  6. This kind of thing has happened to me so many times it doesn't make me mad anymore, and it only took about 30 years for me to get to this point.

    These days, I'm much more likely to just say it with the BIGGEST smile ever: "Ma'am, that's a rather ignorant assumption on your part", and keep it moving!

    1. Ha ha ha . . . that was a bit of a zinger reply, madam! Just sayin'! Ha haha! (But I love it!)

  7. I know this is a serious post, but all I can think about is how if that woman said that to me I would have said something not-so-clever in return... and then I would have called Deanna. She would have a much better comeback than I could ever come up with. LOL.

    I definitely see it in corporate America. I am almost always the only one in a meeting that looks like me. And after talking to someone on the phone & over email for months, I am often received with surprised looks when I show up in person with my young, black self. I want to say, "What we're you expecting?" LOL! But I just smile & handle my business!


    1. Girl. You know I wish I could have called Deanna on this. She would have lost it. Ha ha ha.

      I miss you.



  8. Oh dear god. I would have moved that tray forcefully and with grace right into that old biddy's chest and broken her rib with it ala Martha Stewart shivving someone for dissing her place settings at Camp Cupcake. I'm glad I found you. You are brave and beautiful and smart and much kinder than I am. Sometimes though there's something to be said for being both old and crazy as opposed to being just old and mean. There's no excuse for any of it not Paula Deen not George Zimmerman and not your student. NO EXCUSE. And I won't tolerate it anymore and so I will go on being old and crazy for you and all the other trailblazers out in the world moving through the world with grace trying to get it to sit upright on its axel.

    1. Oh, Sis Rebecca. Oh, how glad I am to have you here in this space. And don't you know? I love me some old and crazy people. They are my favorites or all the favorites. :)

      'Preciate you.

  9. Doc,
    I'm NEVER sorry when you drop the f-bomb. Points (very good points) all taken.

    And there was this sentence and it was perfect and you hit it on the head: As less than her potential.

    I am linking to this post. It's great and I hope it's okay.

    Word is right.



    1. Ha ha ha ha about my f-bomb! I was thinking, "SB would never apologize for f-bombage."

      Thanks, my friend for the kind shout out. I love this little virtual world of friends we have here. Word is right.

      xo, K

  10. Thank you for every word of this.

    1. Thank you for being here and always listening.

  11. I am wondering what your take on this is....on the Today show they were talking about young kids growing up color blind and how wonderful that is when it happens. I work as an SLP in a large multi-racial school district that borders Washington DC and we are taught in equity trainings that we must see the color of someone's skin in order to appreciate differences, traditions, experiences, etc. What do you think?

    Lauren J

    1. Hey Lauren,

      It's an interesting question isn't it? I think your school district in D.C. got it right. I really do. I remember visiting Toronto, ON a few years back and marveling at how beautifully integrated people were. And you could tell that it wasn't because of colorblindness but instead just deep, deep respect and acceptance. America could learn from that. At least some parts of America, I think.

      Isaiah went through this phase of not wanting to be identified as "black." Because his skin isn't "black." And he didn't like "African-American" either. Because he said he was from Atlanta. And essentially, I told him that the name isn't what matters to me. I just need him to know who he is and what it means to have the cultural make up he has. So we looked at pictures and watched youtube videos and talked. We also talked about the beautiful parts of other cultures, too, and how they differ from ours but are just as wonderful. And how you cannot have any idea where you're going if you don't know where you (and your people) have been. And over time he got it.

      It's all tricky. Like Michelle Obama isn't just a cool lady. It is relevant that she is African-American or black or whatever. It is a historical critical incident, if you will, that my children will be taught to SEE and ACKNOWLEDGE. That isn't colorblindness. And I don't think it would be "wonderful" if they only saw her as some cool lady who happens to be married to the President.

      Thank you for reading, Lauren.

  12. Ok, can I switch this to a different angle as well? I'm a white, middle aged woman of working class and I am completely taken aback by that woman's treatment of your colleague! I was all reading in shock and judgment of how that woman treated your friend when I first read this. Then today, after a conversation with my 16 year old, I was brought up short. I'm sexist. I had some health issues last summer and spent a lot of time going to medical establishments. If two people entered the room together, and they were male and female, if the male was the nurse, I was stunned. I know it's not completely the same and I can't presume to know what you encounter, but today when I was faced with my own judgment, it made me uncomfortable with myself and made me question if I've ever treated people like they were less than or made them feel like your colleague felt. My son is considering a nursing career, he told me today, that's what prompted my thought process.

    Speaking of racial issues in the news, I read this article today and it also has provoked a lot of thought and conversation. I thought I would share it

    1. Hey Julie,

      Thanks so much for these thoughts. Sexism is a trip, too. We face that a TON in the hospital. I especially think male nurses get a lot of grief.

      For the record, I doubt that you've made people feel less than. I doubt it. Because even when we screw up, we auto-correct most times. That lady got a chance to auto-correct but didn't take it.

      Thanks for being here.

  13. And you could tell that it wasn't because of colorblindness but instead just deep, deep respect and acceptance. America could learn from that. At least some parts of America, I think.


    Thank you for your gracious words. I definitely screw up a lot, but I hope I correct it on default. I love your blog. Your insight into people and sensitivity to their needs is an inspiration.

    1. And you taking the time to give me that affirmation inspires me to do the same for someone else. I appreciate you reading and being here more than you know.

  14. (As you can tell, I'm making up for lost time reading your blog.) I'm loving Jay Smooth these days and I am particularly fond of this: He makes the distinction between "what you say/do" and "what you are" and it works for racism as well as mysogeny, xenophobia, classism, etc. Check it out


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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