Since I read Dr. Tamika Cross’s story over the weekend, I’ve been unable to get it out of my head. Dr. Cross, a physician, was a passenger on a Delta flight from Detroit to Minneapolis when another passenger had a medical emergency and the flight crew called for a doctor.
Dr. Cross responded and the flight attendant took one look at her, disbelieved her, and dismissed her help.
… 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. (Man is responding the his questions and is seemingly better now Thank God)
The passenger lived. Delta has, more or less, apologized. Dr. Cross says she doesn’t want the flight attendant fired (perhaps because she is a better person than I am) though she does recommend “sensitivity training.” As I would expect, throughout the country and further, Black professionals are responding with their own stories of how they have been disbelieved, dismissed, and distrusted while trying to do their jobs. (I just finished reading Bryan Stevenson’s brilliant Just Mercy, in which Mr. Stevenson, an African-American lawyer, recounts being mistaken for the defendant in a trial. I’m sure it’s not his only story like that.)
Here’s my takeaway: being unable to believe that a Black woman is a physician is an exact parallel to being unable to believe that a Black suspect is unarmed. Okay, Dr. Cross was never in physical danger (though the sick passenger was). Both situations, and the myriad of comparable ones, demonstrate that white people have permission to decide we know what we need to know about the Black person standing in front of us, and that our permission to know that overrides and erases what they say about themselves. Notice that not only did the flight attendant block Dr. Cross, but no one on the flight seems to have stood up and said “Hey, she’s a doctor! Let her through!” It’s easy to blame the flight attendant, but dozens of other people are complicit here. And in all of these situations, we put ourselves at risk by thinking we know what’s going on.
Laurie and I spend a lot of time talking about body image as something that can, and often should, come from the inside out. We talk about learning to like what you see when you look in the mirror, learning to look at people like yourself, appreciate how they look to you in terms of both beauty and power, and then re-internalizing those visuals.
But we are also deeply aware that some aspects of body image come from the outside in. No amount of self-respect will get you through the flight attendant standing in your way in the aisle when all you want is to get to the unconscious man she doesn’t believe you can help. And no amount of self-respect will keep the killer cop’s bullet from destroying your internal organs.
When I read about Tamika Cross I thought immediately about Doc McStuffins. Doc is a young girl who likes to doctor her stuffed animals; her mother is a doctor.
I wouldn’t know about her if I didn’t have children of color as close friends. I bet many of my white friends have never heard of her. Doc isn’t the solution (there is no single solution), but at least she isn’t exacerbating the problem.
When we hear “Black Lives Matter,” we think about Black people killed by cops … and we should. I think it’s also important to think about Dr. Cross, and Bryan Stevenson, and the tens of thousands of other Black people and other people of color whose lives are being impeded, stalled, and disrespected because of our stereotypes, expectations, and assumptions.