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11.09.2012

Being Silenced as a Black Woman in Medical School

This is fresh on my mind because it just happened....and pretty much happens every day.

Let me preface by saying I DO love my school and the education I'm receiving, and if you've followed this blog for a while, that should be clear. But that still doesn't excuse the BS that's been going on...

As a person of color, I find that what happens allot in academic and professional settings is that whenever I voice my opinion or make a comment, as a woman-as a person of color-as a black woman, a certain vibe manifests in the room. Oh, and this only occurs in rooms that are mostly white.

This is a very important distinction. This only occurs in predominantly white spaces.

The room goes silent and I get a bunch of stares. Some people look surprised. Some people look scared, literally. Some look uncomfortable. Some look annoyed. A very select few look kind of jealous. Two or three look happy--those are usually the people of color and an occasional teacher with whom I have a particularly close relationship with. Sure sometimes I say things that are socially charged...a.k.a...REAL(like...talk about oppression or the commodification of healthcare or gender norms), but I often say things that are just kind of...basic...even pleasant, to me. But regardless of what it is, my speaking up in white settings creates a distinct vibe.

Mostly the vibe is stank and antagonistic.

But something ELSE happens when I speak up in class- and this has never happened more than it is happening now in medical school...(FYI-my school, like many medical schools is comprised of about 60% white females, 30% white males and 10% people of color- there are only 3 black people in my class and I am now the only black female).

Whenever I make a comment (or suggest an answer) in class, which is usually a very intelligent one *shrugs*, there is almost always someone- usually a white girl- who "piggy backs" or literally repeats what I just said.  Afterwards, that other person gets all the credit. People praise them and thank them. And I just sit there...baffled and confused.  I have a very dramatic face and usually leave my mouth wide open and/or roll my eyes. 

This happens in large lecture halls, in small classrooms, and especially in group settings where "collaboration" and "team work" is needed. This has always happened to me- from middle school up until medical school.  I find that with my background in Anthropology and my general world view (which people think is soooooo expansive for whatever reason), my opinions are often unique to people (I have been told this). My comments tend to provide that "missing link", that AHA moment, and that big picture that no one ever mentions-or perhaps comprehends. People tend to gasp, or say "oh yea!"after such comments. This is one of my gifts. It's always been like this. I know this. My family knows this. My peers know this. My professors know this.

Sidenote: What's crazy to me though is that no person of color has ever done this to me- or at least that I can remember. Only white people.

I can't help but wonder why.

WHY?????

Like stealing people's thoughts and taking credit for work that isn't yours is the most audacious, dishonest, and rudest thing ever.

I also can't help but wonder if they even know what they are doing.

A wise one once said, "Ignorance is bliss".

An equally relevant issue is how many (but not all) my professors (who are also mostly white) facilitate this, knowingly or unknowingly. Like why did you give the person who just stole my thoughts credit after you heard me say the same thing moments prior? I know you heard me because I always project my voice-and I definitely just stood up to speak- and my hand was raised so you had to actively call on me- I'm also the only black woman in this room...and in this class- I can't be confused with anyone else. So....

It's a cold world. My black elders told me this would happen, but I never believed them.

I guess this is how the world is conditioned. People of color are continually silenced by white people. In a larger context, the dominant group always tries to...dominate. White-black. Male-female. Rich-poor. This is how it is. It's sad. It's bad. It makes me mad. #Rhyming.

But I still can't help but wonder, WHY? I'm not a psychologist, though I am learning psychological principles in medical school. What I know is that all actions have motives, whether those motives occur at a conscious or sub-conscious level. Also, every action has intent. So perhaps these people who steal my thoughts and take credit for my work.....are threatened. Maybe. Maybe not. It's a hypothesis. 

It's interesting for me to think about the ways that dominant groups, namely whites and (white) males, especially in professional and academic settings, feel threatened by people like me. What do I mean by people like me? Strong, curious, intelligent and fearless black women.

Well, they better get used to me speaking out. Cuz I promise to come back harder, faster, and stronger than ever before- every time.

I know this will continue to be an issue for the rest of my life. I should start prepping myself for clinic/hospital rotations, professional conventions, the business world etc. It is is what it is.

Still, I must find ways to re-claim my words and take ownership! A copyright of my thoughts, if you will. These goons are thought-theives! In doing so, they are attempting to steal not just my words, but MY voice and MY agency- OUR voice and OUR agency.

But guess what?!

It ain't gonna happen.

I'm calling people OUT!

At this point, I just can't stop.
I plan on asking every question that I can think of, without hesitation.
I plan on voicing every thought that crosses my mind.
I plan on speaking louder.
I can't be silent.


Stay Engaged,
N

11 comments:

  1. It's interesting because I had a similar conversation with JC a few weeks ago in regards to how he feels about voicing his opinion in his grad program. The thing is: academia in the US is so institutionalized, systematic in all aspects of thought/being that it takes prominent, thought-provoking, fearless and unapologetic leaders such as (dear I say it) a Ruth Simmons to break the mold - to serve as both a physical and a literal challenge to what many have been conditioned to believe concerning race/gender biases. I think we've all actually been conditioned to either think or behave a certain way in regards to our beliefs about the knowledge-power complex. I too often wonder why circumstances such as the one you courageously and cleverly laid out above have to be so awkward. Would it be better if you didn't speak as openly in classroom settings. If perhaps you kept your thoughts and opinions to yourself for fear of making 'everyone else' feel uncomfortable. Absolutely not! White (male) privilege is not a joke nor is it a laughable topic of discussion. The election/re-election of a biracial president does not eliminate the existence of this said privilege but it does get discussion going...it does open people's minds to the possibility of expanding their conditioned thoughts/actions concerning knowledge and power to include people who are not like them (whether in regards to gender, race, socio-economic standing or any other classifier that serves to further divide us). I think we first learned about this 'game' some time ago by a different name - identity politics (shoutout to Walker). Anyway, enough of my short response. I say continue to be the fearless, thought-provoking, insightful, sagacious leader you are. Don't let them (or anyone) forget you; you do not only yourself a service, but your static-thinking classmates and the world. I look forward to discussing this with you in further detail.
    xx Bisous

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    1. Thank you so much for your insightful and honest comment Moji!
      The struggle is real.
      -N

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  2. I feel you.I love this post. It's somewhat the same way in Urban School systems as well, where school administration is White, and many other teachers are White but all the students and a small percentage of teachers are of color. Yes, I FEEL you.

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  3. i loved reading this. my love, never apologize for what is innate and natural of you, of life, of our existence. with every word, experience, dialogue, & truth we (you) will inform and educate the world around us in every setting that time takes us.
    to be continued. xoxo!

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    1. muchacho! thanks for your comment!

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  4. This seems like an early post almost a year ago.
    I am usually blissfully ignorant but I noticed that when we discussed micro aggression in class, the vibe I got from some white people was that they didn't want to hear it. Of course, they don't want to hear it. Nobody wants to blame for their faults.
    At that time, I realized how much it is hard for privileged people to acknowledge that indeed they are privileged and give more attention to people who are less so. I feel that it's kind of human nature... if we are not particularly conscious.
    But, you give me a lot of courage, Naika. As you might have noticed, I am usually the last person to speak up. It's important that we acknowledge our rights and stand up for ourselves as minority.
    Keep being as wonderful as you are.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Sooha! You're awesome!

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  5. Hi. I am so happy I came across your blog because I feel your pain. I am going through the same thing at my school. I attend University of Bridgeport Naturopathic Medical school. I am now the only black girl left that made it from 1st year in my class. My other black friends either transferred or left the school. I dont talk much in class because of negative attitudes towards me and also rude comments, weird looks etc. Just the other day in Manipulation class some girl of a certain race (the majority) was my default partner and always acts as if she is the smarter than everyone, anyway we were practicing adjustments of cervical spine and she found the littlest things I did wrong and used it to embarrass me and attempted to make herself look better..long story short this is very common in many other classes. I would even try and contribute in discussions and some of them would look at me like I have two heads or just flat out ignore me as if I am not standing next to them. I would love to keep in touch and learn how you deal with being different in your school.

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