May 25th, 2021, marked the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. George Floyd was a victim of racial injustice. Tragically, he is not the only Black person to die at the hands of U.S. police officers over these past few years.
George Floyd’s death has brought renewed protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, first established back in 2013, after George Zimmerman’s acquittal, who shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager.
Racial trauma is a cumulative experience, where every personal or vicarious encounter with racism contributes to a more insidious chronic stress. For two-and-a-half months, before the murder of Floyd, America has been paralyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic, its streets eerily empty. Now pent-up energy and anxiety and rage have spilled out. The nation’s racial inequities affected people from all over the world.
Collectively and globally, people understand that their fights for human rights equality unfairness will become so much more difficult if we are going to lose America, which up until this point represented a place of opportunity and liberty for all.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light many of the social-economic injustices marginalized individuals have been experiencing for centuries. It also painfully brought out the racial inequities that people of color have felt for as long as they can remember.
The murder of George Floyd triggered my 30-plus years of racial trauma I have personally experienced in my life. I was fed up with not being heard when I raised concerns about my care or my children. I was fed up with the double standards that I saw for most of my life. I was tired of being gaslit and told to believe that my experiences were inaccurate or partially attributed to my color. I was done with the silence that I had been living in for years and finally spoke out because of George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe.”
The words George Floyd spoke triggered me mentally and physically.
My mind went back to an experience I had with my second daughter, who is now almost six months old. She was admitted to the hospital at four days old. During her admission to the pediatric ward, her oxygen level dropped at least six times. The levels dropped to as low as 51 percent O2. I remember getting up multiple times, telling the nurses that my daughter wasn’t breathing. By this point, my daughter was seizing, but the nurses were telling me it was just reflux.
After calling a friend, a physician, and explaining what happened, she was shocked, and she reached out to the attending physician.
Fast forward: My daughter was admitted to the ICU, then later transferred to another ICU in another city and finally intubated.
For me, the COVID pandemic and all the fears of contracting the virus and potentially being intubated sparked something inside of me. The murder of George Floyd, witnessing him begging for his life, was the catalyst for me to speak up.
During the social distancing, due to the pandemic, I had the time to think about my life and what I wanted to do with the rest of it. It felt like a betrayal, giving my everything to a system that honestly didn’t consistently respect me as a human being.
Even if my repeated negative experiences with the health care system were purely by chance, I believe it’s vital for health care providers to be compassionate when providing care for marginalized individuals and people of color. I’m a knowledgeable physician, and I’m very aware of the standard of care. I feel for those who don’t know and the connections to help them when they are vulnerable. To those reading this article, race and inequality aren’t topics that can be ignored anymore. Racial injustice is an issue that needs to be addressed, as it affects all parts of our society.
Tomi Mitchell is a family physician.
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