I fixed my gaze across a sea of white coats, scrubs, and face masks, as I took a knee in front of my institution’s hospital. A photographer was walking around capturing historical moments while we spent 10 minutes in silence to remember all the black lives lost due to intolerance and racism.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have gotten a surge of emails from my institution’s faculty and administration, declaring their outrage at the racial injustice and their support of my well-being. As a black medical student in a profession dominated by my white counterparts, it is important to be at an institution that acknowledges your pain and structural violence.
Although those declarations are meaningful, there also needs to be a change in hearts, minds, and interpersonal interactions of individuals. For all the people who have sent me emails and text messages asking me to let them know if there is anything they can do to support me – here is what you can do.
1. When you are approached on an issue of race, resist the urge to respond defensively.
In the United States, it appears the worst thing one could ever call a white person is racist. As soon as the R-word is associated with their person, anything said after that point falls of deaf ears. If you want to support me, put down your walls, and listen. Hear what comes after the R-word. You should be more concerned with why someone perceived what you did or said as racist, prejudice, ignorant, or discriminatory. Take the time to understand how they received what occurred. You cannot prevent injustice, intolerance, and structural violence until you understand how your decisions impact the vulnerable and oppressed.
2. Sit in your discomfort and engage in dialogue with an open mind.
I am a black woman who has attended predominately white institutions since the 5th grade. When I go into a high-end store, sometimes I am followed. When I walk past a parked vehicle, I hear the click of locking car doors. I live in a society where the police cause me more anxiety and fear than security and peace. To make it plain – to live my life is to often be uncomfortable. If you want to support me, soak in the discomfort, and check your privilege. Navigating the world without discomfort is a luxury that black people cannot afford.
3. After having said conversation, do not avoid the person that spoke to you or distance yourself from them.
It has happened to me time and time again. I have an open and honest conversation with a non-POC about how their comment or action made me feel as a black person. They may apologize or express how it was not their intention to make me feel said way … and then they avoid me. Anytime they see me walking down the hallway, they look away, and our socialization is reduced to superficial, curt niceties. Avoiding someone because a conversation made you uncomfortable is an inappropriate response. If you want to support me, fight the temptation to run away. Instead, learn from the encounter and move forward with newfound awareness and intention. It is an opportunity for you to grow and improve your interactions with people who experience the world differently than you do.
There is no doubt that systems need to change. But what is a system other than a compilation of individuals? As anti-racist policies are introduced, and supports are provided for the vulnerable, be part of the shift in cultivating safe and open spaces for your black colleagues to exist and thrive.
Jasmine Arrington is a medical student.
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