When I was 20 years old, I boarded a flight from St. Louis, Missouri to Houston, Texas. It was Fall and the temperature had begun dropping. That being the case, I was dressed like a typical college student at that time of year: sweatpants and a hoodie. After taking my seat, a middle-aged white woman sat next to me. Little did I know what I was in for.
Over the course of our two-hour flight, this woman, whom I had never met, berated me. “Why do you dress like that?” she asked. “Do you think you’re cool?” After giving her my rationale that it was cold outside, and I wanted to be comfortable on the flight, she continued to criticize me; “Why do you talk like that? You don’t even know how to speak well.” Her belittling was beyond reason. What stuck with me the most was when she said, “Nobody will ever take you seriously. You’ll never be successful.” I remember asking myself: Is this what society thinks when they see people who look like me?
This woman’s expectation of a young black man wearing a hoodie was one of failure and hopelessness. Perhaps she thought she was helping me and that these were useful tips for my future success. Little did she know that the young man sitting next to her was on his way to becoming a medical doctor. I often reflect on this encounter, and over the years have come to many conclusions. One such conclusion is that children should be exposed to black male doctors.
Research has shown that bias and racism begin to develop in children as early as age three. Many of these are implicit and are not necessarily malignant in origin. As children become aware of race, they make critical associations based on their encounters with people who look similar and different from them. When you have mothers such as the woman on the plane, of course you’ll have children who are weary and judgmental of people who look different than they do. Furthermore, the lack of positive minority imagery in the media does not offer a source to combat these perceptions. Because this is the case, when children are exposed to individuals from other races, it is important they establish strong and positive mental associations. This is the reason I believe children of all races should be exposed to black doctors.
Studies demonstrate that society’s negative perception of black males is potentiated when individuals have less real-world exposure to them. This leads to an adoption of beliefs based on the media’s narrative of black men. I hope my assumption is wrong, but I’m willing to bet that when many Americans close their eyes and imagine a black man, what comes to mind isn’t the most positive picture. The truth of the matter, however, is that the vast majority of us are regular citizens with a day job like everyone else. However, it’s difficult for others to appreciate that without being exposed to black men. That being the case, I believe we need to counter that by exposing children of all backgrounds to black male physicians.
Some may ask why I suggest the exposure needed to reshape the black male narrative should stem from the medical field. I do so for two reasons. First, doctors carry stature. Other than celebrities or CEOs of fortune 500 companies, physicians are among the most respected professionals. As a result of this, when people interact with me as a black doctor, their biases are challenged. When a young child watches his mom or dad speaking with me, he sees clearly and immediately that they respect me. The letters “MD” after my name provide instant credibility with their parents. Subconsciously, this teaches the child that black men are not inferior to their own parents (neither are we superior), and we should be respected like any other member of society.
The second reason why children should be exposed to black male physicians is that the doctor-patient relationship builds trust. When you put yourself in a vulnerable position that requires another individual to make decisions about your health, you quickly learn to trust that person. I vividly remember encounters with my childhood doctor. Dr. Nina Miller, a white middle-age woman. She was excellent and I always felt valued as her patient. There is a certain level of respect and honor that I have for her which will never leave me.
If you expose your child to a black male doctor, with time, he or she will come to trust and respect this physician. Your child will have a personal and positive view of at least one black man, which in turn will help to debunk much of the way society portrays us. They’ll understand that black men, even those wearing sweatpants and hoodies, are sincere, intelligent, and loving. This understanding will allow society to progress in ways currently restricted by biases and stereotypes.
“Dr. Dale” is a physician who blogs at PreMed StAR and is the author of How to Raise a Doctor: Wisdom From Parents Who Did It!
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