An overwhelmingly loud and high-pitched screech rattles against your hip. You startle and groan into the pillow as your thoughts settle into conscious awareness. It is 3 a.m. You are a 2nd-year resident trudging through the night shift, alerted to the presence of a new patient awaiting an emergency assessment. You are the only in-house physician. Walking steadfastly toward the emergency unit, you enter and greet the patient. Immediately, you observe a look of surprise followed immediately by a scowl.
You extend a hand, but your greeting is abruptly cut short with: “I want to see a doctor!” You pace your breaths to quell annoyance and resume your introduction, asserting that you are a doctor and indeed the only doctor on duty. After moments of deep sighs and questions regarding your credentials, you persuade the patient to start the interview.
It is now 8 a.m. The frustration of the night starts to ease as you prepare to leave. While gathering your things, a visitor is overheard inquiring the whereabouts of a hospital unit. Volunteering as a guide, you walk the person toward the opposite end of the hospital. Bleary eyed, muscle laxed, and bone weary, you point out the entrance, then turn to leave. The steady rhythm of your steps suddenly halts as you hear from behind: “Thank you! You speak English really well!” Blankly, you stare. Your voice remains mute while your brain screams: “What is that supposed to mean?” But you do not utter a sound, because intuitively, you know the answer.
While reading this scenario, what did you feel? Pride in knowing that the physician was able to successfully navigate a busy night? Relief in the physician’s ability to maintain a professional demeanor despite belittling microaggressions? Are you angry? Would you replay those moments like reruns of a bad TV show? Can you imagine entering your home and collapsing onto the bed as your tears of fury pool over your rumpled sheets?
The emotional release of that morning is seared into my memory. Over the years, I questioned my reactions. Was I too passive? Should I have schooled them on their ignorance? Had I done so, would I have incurred reprimands? Would standing up for myself cause years of hard work to fall away? Moreover, had I defended myself, would I forever have been viewed as “The Angry Black Woman?”
This story is more than a vignette. For me, it is another reminder that, despite how far we have come, we have much further to go. As a Black woman in a professional sphere, I stand upon the shoulders of those who sacrificed for a dream, a greater purpose. My foremothers and forefathers fought bravely and tirelessly so that we could attain levels of success that were only once but a dream. Despite this progress, a grimace, carelessly spoken words, or a mindless gesture remind me that, no matter how much I toil and what levels of success I achieve, when I meet someone for the first time or encounter someone from my past, I find myself wondering whether I am remembered for me or because I am “The Black One.”