“You are going to have to do better than everyone else because you are black.”
For decades, upwardly mobile black parents have been telling the above to their children. And if the black child in question happens to be a girl, that always factors in. You, black female child, have to be doubly excellent because you have not one, but two “strikes” against you.
My parents said this to me routinely during my formative years. Many of my white friends are aghast at this advice and I’m puzzled as to why, especially taking into account that I am in my 50s—which means that my parents grew up in the Bad Old Days, during which the expectations were that a black citizen might have, at best, a high school diploma and would usually have a profession where their hands, feet and backs were more essential than the higher processes of their minds.
Now, of course, that has all changed dramatically. An American who is black and a woman can be secretary of state, attorney general, surgeon general, or an astronaut. Black female doctors, lawyers, nurses and other professionals are everywhere. (And, though we are talking about black women, the existence of the current president of the United States makes this point.)
Often these well-educated, well-employed women are airline passengers. And that brings us to this story.
Tamika Cross, a physician, was midway through a flight from Detroit to Minneapolis when a passenger emergency sent her into “doctor mode.”
Sometime after takeoff, a man two rows in front of her suddenly became unresponsive, she said, and flight attendants called for help.
Cross, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said she immediately flagged down one of the crew members, offering to treat the man.
She got a response she wasn’t prepared for.
“Oh no, sweetie, put [your] hand down,” Cross recalled the flight attendant saying. “We are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don’t have time to talk to you.”
Dr. Cross is a black woman. From her Facebook post about the incident:
Then overhead they paged “any physician on board please press your button”. I stare at her as I go to press my button. She said “oh wow you’re an actual physician?” I reply yes. She said “let me see your credentials. What type of Doctor are you? Where do you work? Why were you in Detroit?” (Please remember this man is still in need of help and she is blocking my row from even standing up while
Bombarding me with questions).
I respond “OBGYN, work in Houston, in Detroit for a wedding, but believe it or not they DO HAVE doctors in Detroit. Now excuse me so I can help the man in need”. Another “seasoned” white male approaches the row and says he is a physician as well. She says to me “thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials”. (Mind you he hasn’t shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the “description of a doctor”) I stay seated. Mind blown. Blood boiling.
The more I think about this situation, the more I think that the flight attendant should be fired not for racism, per se, but for what her preconceived notions—regardless of they were–caused her to do: to tell Dr. Cross to sit down and shut up before the latter could identify herself as a doctor. The simple act of cutting of the physician and ignoring her could have cost a man his life.
That act was likely caused by the flight attendant’s preconceived notions about doctors and about black women.
And whether those notions are justified or not, this mini-drama does show why parents like mine tell their offspring that blackness is an obstacle to overcome. Still.
Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2012. Her second novel will be done in 2016. Follow her on Twitter.
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