It never ceases to amaze me that when we have discussions about police brutality and racial profiling, many white people say that “they don’t know anyone who has ever been racially profiled.”
To that I say, yes you do. I am one of them.
As you all know, I am a critical care physician and I travel all over the country for my work assignments. Back in 2017, I was on a locums assignment at a hospital in central Illinois. On that Sunday, I had finished seeing all my patients and had completed all my work. I decided to go to the gift shop to look around.
I browsed around the gift shop and saw some candy that I wanted to purchase. Realizing that I left my wallet upstairs in the ICU, I left the gift shop to go get my wallet.
When I went back down to the gift shop, on my way in, I was stopped by 2 security guards. They asked me to come with them to their office. Once in their office, they proceeded to tell me that I had been accused of stealing potato chips by the gift store clerk. The gift store clerk was a hospital volunteer, an old white lady who had to be about 80 years old.
Now, here I am, in my scrubs (with my name on them), my fleece jacket (with my name embroidered on it), and I had on my hospital badge which clearly said “physician”. And this store clerk thought I stole potato chips.
I told the officers that before they accuse me of anything, they need to review the security camera footage. I also told them that I am a critical care physician in that hospital and that I have access to the physicians lounge in which there are free potato chips. I asked them, “If I can get all the chips I want for free in the physicians’ lounge, why would I steal potato chips from the gift shop?”
They went to go talk to the store clerk. Turns out she thought I stole something simply because she saw me walk in the store and then saw me walk out.
She thought I stole something…….
The officers were very apologetic, and they stressed that they were going to talk to that gift store volunteer about not accusing people of theft.
Now, that scenario could have ended much differently if I were not a physician at that hospital, if the security officers had been assholes, if I did not have the wherewithal to keep my cool and assert my rights, or if my mother and her church friend had not been praying for me at that very instance. See, it took every bit of my home training and my religion not to walk back in that store and give that clerk a piece of my mind.
It was at that very moment that I realized how Mike Brown was murdered. In case you all forgot, Mike Brown was the black man who was murdered by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO after Mike Brown was accused of theft.
Here I was working in a hospital in central Illinois, 1.5 hours away from Ferguson, MO, being accused of doing the same thing that got Mike Brown killed by a police officer.
All because an old white lady who was a hospital volunteer…thought I stole something.
See, her accusation of theft could have cost me my job, my medical license(s), my freedom, and even my life…. all because she thought I stole something.
But here is the kicker, after experiencing that traumatic event at work…. I still had to stay at work and do work. I couldn’t leave. I had to suppress my rage, put on a happy face, and pretend to have a pleasant attitude. I had to continue to work in a hospital where I now had tangible proof that they viewed me as a criminal.
And that right there is a part of the repeated trauma that blacks face every single day. We get traumatized daily, and we must pretend that it doesn’t affect us. We must act as though we are alright so that we don’t make white people uncomfortable…so we are not seen as the “angry black woman/man.”
So, Dear White People. If you know any black people, you DO know someone that has been racially profiled. You just don’t KNOW that they have.