By Roberteen H. McCray, DO; member, ACOFP Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force

As I sit in my home office, listening to my neighbor set off fireworks, I think of the significance of Independence Day. I think of the groups of men who sat in dark taverns and in secret meeting places as they discussed the pros and cons of taking the stance that would change the fate of the colonies. I think of the lost and untold stories of the women who not only supported the men, but also played key roles and risked their own lives. As I think of independence, I also think of the different groups of people, who—throughout history—were oppressed and ill-treated, until they too took a stand and fought for change.

My paternal grandmother shared so many stories about her life experiences living in the deep South. She survived the Great Depression, multiple recessions, assassinations of leaders, segregation, desegregation, the Civil Rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis, the 1968 military draft and so on. She shared with me her concerns for my future and stressed the importance of education and self-awareness. Little did she know that, although I worked tirelessly to complete my education, I would have experiences comparable to what she experienced. So today, I will briefly share one of my pre-medical school experiences that speaks to these ideas. Now at this point, eyes are rolling, the loud sighs are being released and the negative comments are rolling off tongues. Some of you may even stop reading; it’s ok—it is your prerogative.

This incident occurred more than 10 years ago. I was checking a patient in for an appointment. We had gone over her medications, had recorded her vital signs and had documented the chief complaint. The patient then shared a recent experience of being startled by a neighbor. As we joked and laughed about the event, I shared a similar story about how I was focused on reading a funny email to my husband over the phone, but I had not noticed that one of my male coworkers had come into my office and was reading the email over my shoulder. I explained how I thought I was the only one left in the building when I noticed movement out of the corner of my right eye—my male co-worker—and that upon noticing the movement, I let out an ear-piercing scream that scared both of us. To my surprise, the patient wasn’t giggling like I was as I was telling the story; she had the most serious look on her face, which I thought was so strange. Then she said, “Well, I am not surprised that you were startled and your fight or flight response kicked in. You people just left the jungle 400 years ago.”

After the patient made that statement, the room was silent. I was flabbergasted. I had no words for her. I could not even give her a dirty look. I quietly excused myself from the room and informed her that the doctor was running behind schedule. As I sat at my workstation and continued with my day, my thoughts kept going back to what that patient had said.

That day was a reminder for me of the ignorance that is prevalent across races—in this case, lack of knowledge regarding history. I think she would have been shocked to know that I have multiple paternal and maternal ancestors who have the fairest skin, bluest eyes and silkiest hair, but that is neither here nor there. That moment was a reminder of the importance of the lessons I was taught. Unfortunately, with technology and social media, incorrect information and messages of hate can be transmitted to the masses within minutes. Just think how much chaos and confusion would be eliminated if the correct information was shared through social media outlets.

Leave a Reply