I am Jewish, bisexual, and female. Statistically, these three identities put me at risk for experiencing violence in this country. But I am also white, and so I am not afraid. I can go for runs in my neighborhood without fear of being attacked. I can shop in fancy stores without fear of being followed. And I can go to sleep at night without fear of police knocking down my door and shooting me in my own bed.
In the aftermath of both the Pulse nightclub and the Tree of Life shootings, I was shocked and grief-stricken, and, briefly, I was afraid. But then I saw this country pull together, denouncing hate and reaching across divides to support each other. Our nation’s political leaders were quick to condemn the attacks, offering condolences and promises to do better. Jews and queer people across the nation held each other tight, and I knew that while there are those in this country that believe people like me should not exist, I also knew that I personally was not in any real danger.
Now, as protests continue to bloom across the country in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, David McAtee, and Tony McDade, people are once again coming together to hold and support each other. Only this time, the story is different. This country’s history of racial injustice has finally come to a head. The revolution has begun, and media coverage is emphasizing violence. Political discourse has taken the side of the oppressor. In the last seven months, 104 Black Americans have been murdered by the very people who have promised to serve and protect. This number is unfortunately unsurprising, however, because this country and all its institutions have been built on racism.
While I do my best to be open and outspoken about my identities, if I ever feel unsafe, I can hide behind my white privilege. Black Americans cannot do this. They can rarely, if ever, turn off this heightened fear response. As a medical student, I have learned that the body’s response to chronic stress can lead to an increased risk for a huge number of diseases. I have been taught that generational trauma can become embedded in one’s DNA and can be passed down to one’s children. And so it is no wonder that the health disparities we see in our patient populations are so evident and yet are so difficult to address.
It is clear to me, as a future physician, that the answer lies far beyond the scope of my practice. If we hope to make a dent in the health disparities that exist in this country, if we hope to staunch the blood that flows through these streets, we must tear down and rebuild. We must build a society in which Black Americans can live without fear of discrimination and violence, and it is up to those of us who have been hiding behind our privilege to finally stand up and do the work.
Rachel Fogel is a medical student.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com