“I matter, now what are you gonna do?”1
That is the last line in Dr. Robert Ray, Jr.’s eye-opening and intensely raw blog, where he details his experiences with institutional and systemic racism during his emergency medicine residency. I have read his account several times now, and, as a white woman, I struggle with how to write about it.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 43 – No 01 – January 2024
Why Is It a Struggle for Me to Know How to Feel or What to Do with It?
I want to explore these feelings further and address my fellow white colleagues. The first thing some of us as white people might do when we read Dr. Ray’s blog is to say things like, “Oh, I feel so badly for him,” or “I can’t believe that happened!” We may think that there is nothing wrong with those responses. But that attitude is perpetuating the problem.
Those responses make Dr. Ray’s experience someone else’s problem. Those comments shield us inside a “white bubble” (or, as I like to call it, my “white force field”), which avoids recognition of racism and renders us impervious to its insidious effects.
We tell ourselves these stories to make sense of the world. But it’s just that, a story. White people do not exist under a non-racist force field that some of us like to believe we do. Look at the victims of racial injustice since 2020—including George Floyd, Daniel Prude, Breonna Taylor, Ralph Yarl, and Christian Cooper, just to name a few. While these discriminatory and brutal acts were shocking, they were not surprising to Black people.
Dear Fellow White People
Realize that all of these events happened inside our white force field. Racism lives among us. Some of us may think that the perpetrators committing these acts are unique outliers; they could not possibly be our friends or our neighbors. Or could they? People like Amy Cooper (the white woman who called the police on Christian Cooper, a Black man, while he was bird-watching in Central Park) may not be that rare—they are doctors, nurses, bosses, educators, colleagues, and, yes, we probably know them personally.2
Many white people rarely think of ourselves in racialized terms. Our worldview has not often been taught to us with that lens. If we have a white friend, we do not tell other white people in our group that our friend is also white because it is simply assumed.3 Moreover, if we acknowledge race, many of us certainly aren’t going to admit that being white bestows advantage (or “privilege,” if you will). Admitting that we exist in a world of racial comfort significantly different from those with black and brown skin may induce guilt or defensiveness, which brings us back to pity and disbelief. Those feelings have been termed “white fragility,” which perpetuates racism, including racism in the house of medicine.3,4