The Influence of Racism

First off, I want to give a shoutout to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we celebrate his legacy as well as all the sacrifices that so many people in both the past and the present have made in order to guarantee everyone access to the civil rights that they deserve. While he wouldn’t be much too pleased about the current state of our country, he would be actively encouraging us all to fight for justice and to combat the racist & divisive rhetoric that is being spewed to us on a frighteningly regular basis. With that said, let’s continue to do our best to live up to the ideals that he believed in and work to make this country, as well as this world, a better place to live in!

martin luther king kindness GIF by Gilbert, Arizona

I spent the entirety of my weekend in Nashville, TN, at the quarterly SNMA National Leadership Institute, where members of the Board of Directors as well as pre-med and medical students in local chapters convened for a weekend of leadership sessions, networking, research presentations, and business meetings. Because it was my third one as a member of the Board of Directors, I already knew what the flow of the weekend was going to be like.

And sure enough, it was ridiculously busy.

Although I spent the vast majority of the weekend in board meetings discussing various matters pertinent to the organization, I did get the opportunity to sit in on a few sessions where physician-leaders of various disciplines spoke with us on topics such as what leadership in the SNMA looks like, leadership behaviors, addressing health disparities and racism as an executive, community organizing and using leadership for social justice. One common theme that kept resurfacing throughout the sessions of the conference was the powerful and negative impact that racism can have on one’s mindset. It’s almost mind-numbing to consider how something as arbitrary as race was turned into this whole social construct that was ultimately weaponized against specific populations for such an extensive duration of time that these minority populations ultimately came to believe and internalize the false and damaging stereotypes that were associated with their respective race.

I personally spent so much of my formative years internally struggling with this ordeal. Due to the media, my surroundings, the “Black” & “African” jokes and stereotypes I routinely heard throughout my adolescent years, I truly believed that Black people just simply weren’t “good enough” and that as a Black Man in America, I was supposed to be either an athlete, a rapper, an entertainer or something else along those lines in order to truly be successful. Even though I was fortunate enough to have an amazing support network and incredible parents who invested so much in me throughout my life, I still saw the intelligence I was gifted with as unusual, even embarrassing at times. I found myself desperately trying to fit in with what was considered to be “Black” as I went about my high school days and ended up suffering through an identity crisis. It didn’t help that I had a completely separate lifestyle back at home as a first-generation American.

It really wasn’t until I got to college that I began to truly feel comfortable in my own skin. My mindset about being Black also shifted dramatically during my undergraduate years and I ended up meeting many people who were just like me, including those who were raised by immigrant parents from various countries in the continent of Africa. I found strength in being Black and for the first time in my life, I was 100% proud of my heritage and of being a Black Man in America. I began to actively fight against the stereotypes that I had unconsciously internalized up to that point, instead finding traits such as resilience, wisdom, perseverance, courage and strength commonplace across the Black diaspora. I realized how troublesome it was to believe that being an intelligent Black Man could be seen as unusual and decided to not only be proud of who I was, but to also begin motivating and inspiring others like me to disregard the false stereotypes being placed upon us and to instead internalize the positive traits that we all have the ability to possess.

Even to this day, there are moments where I find myself having to mentally combat a stereotype I was conditioned to believe throughout my life. What’s so crazy about all of this is that even with the relatively comfortable upbringing that I had, I STILL went through all of this. I can’t even begin to imagine all of those young Black kids who don’t have the same resources I had growing up who have been conditioned to believe that they are inferior to others and that they don’t have the ability or potential to be just as great as, if not greater than, what they perceive to be as successful.

Yeah I know, I went off on a MAJOR tangent….but I felt that it was necessary to put all that out there. It was especially fitting, considering that it’s MLK Day.

Overall, the SNMA conference was pretty productive and I was able to catch up with some friends that I hadn’t seen in months. However, I wasn’t really able to do much of any sightseeing of the city because I was so busy 😔. Now that this leadership conference is over, it’s time to gear up for the national conference that everyone knows and loves; the SNMA Annual Medical Education Conference! It’s taking place in Philly this year and I’m really looking forward to it, especially since it will be my final year participating as a medical student 😭. The past two AMECs that I’ve been to were phenomenal experiences and I have no doubt that this one will be just as awesome!

Briefly recapping my past week, I spent it experiencing various fields of Anesthesia while working on completing some of my required assignments. I spent one day working in Pediatric Anesthesia, another day observing what life performing procedures in a pain clinic looks like, and yet another day helping manage the airway of psychiatric patients undergoing electroconvulsive therapy. I even got the opportunity to push some necessary medications into them, which was a neat experience. In regards to the midterm I took on Monday morning…..it was pretty tough, but not as terrible as I was expecting. I got my score back a few days later and it definitely wasn’t the best I’ve ever performed, but more than enough to keep my chances of comfortably passing the rotation alive. I scored about what I was expecting to score, so I wasn’t really fazed by my result at all. I just want to now get through these required readings, deliver my PowerPoint presentation that I still have to finish working on, take the final this Friday and FINALLY be done with all these assignments that I REALLY DON’T want to do anymore.

kerry washington eye roll GIF by The Paley Center for Media

Speaking of, I’m going to go ahead and sign off so that I can start working on finishing this presentation as well as get through a chapter or two of my anesthesia textbook. *Sigh* C’est la vie.

I hope that your week is a delightful one!

“Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

– Black Man, M.D.

Gratitude, Health & Stereotypes

First off, shoutout to all of you that actually read these blog entries. People have actually stopped me and told me how much they loved reading my blog, which pleasantly surprises me every time. Some have even told me they look forward to reading what I post every week! It may just seem like a nice compliment, but it actually means A LOT to me to see that my classmates, old friends, and family really enjoy reading these posts. Typing my thoughts out is really helping me organize both my experiences in medical school and my mind in general. I always have a thousand things going on in my head and don’t really know what to do with it all, so this is helping quite a bit. I also hope I’m helping to inspire or motivate somebody out there in some way by pouring my thoughts out here. That’s becoming a bigger goal for me with these posts, because I know how it feels to be inspired…it can completely change your life. So to everyone that is keeping up with this blog and spreading the word about it, I APPRECIATE YOU!!!

Now about this test I took a couple days ago…

It was definitely harder than I thought it was gonna be. I felt that I had adequately prepared for it, but mannnn those brain lesion artery questions got my ass. That was the one thing I kind of skimmed over while studying…and I got like 10 questions about them. 😐 Plus they asked some questions in the weirdest ways and had strange answer choices. And y’all would be hella surprised at how many nerves we got in our heads. Bruh. They tagged SO MANY different nerves on the cadavers in the practical portion. Had me looking at those poor dead faces like:

All I can say is that I did my absolute best on that test. I’m not afraid that I failed or anything (failing isn’t an option, I worked too damn hard to get here), but I also don’t know if I did better than I did on my last test. You see, I’ve been playing this game with myself where I try and see how much higher of a score I can get on a test compared to my previous one. I’ve had a hot streak so far (1-for-1) and I’m not tryna break it lol. But we’ll see. It wasn’t a terrible test, because there was a good amount of info I was sure about…thing is, you tend to just really remember the shit that tripped you up.

Oh well.

At least I’m about to be done with anatomy after this last block! This last section is dealing with the arms and legs, which hopefully will be less intensive than the head & neck region we just got tested on. But because its supposedly less intensive, we got extra clinical skills sessions, case-centered learning sessions and medical ethics discussions packed into these next two weeks as well. The faculty were pretty much like, “Y’all thought y’all was gonna get off that easy?? Nahhh B, lemme serve you some more stress.” I swear they be laughing at us man. Smh. I just can’t wait till I get to see my girl again in a few weeks and to see my family during Thanksgiving. They’re slick getting me thru this last stretch of anatomy.

On another note…

I’ve been reading up on Black Man in a White Coat by Dr. Damon Tweedy, and he’s been saying some pretty interesting stuff regarding his experiences as a medical student in the 90’s at Duke. As a matter of fact, he’s talked about a few things that I can already relate to. One thing that happened to stick with me was when he talked about how “healthy” he was because of the fact that he had been skinny all his life and that he also played basketball on a regular basis for exercise. He admitted to having a “high-salt” diet and to not eating as healthy as he should be eating, but he never thought twice about it because he had a high metabolism and never really gained any weight. So he shouldn’t have anything to worry about right? Turns out sometime during his first year in medical school while he and his classmates were learning how to take a blood pressure reading, a classmate took his and found it to be at a hypertensive level. Not only that, but he learned that he was starting to have symptoms of kidney disease. After learning all that, he became highly distressed and started eating healthier as well as supplementing the exercise he got from playing basketball with running. He eventually got down to a normal blood pressure (120/80) and became much more interested in hypertension and why it was 50% more common in black people than in white people. He found different reasons that ranged from evolutionary scientists theorizing that the African slaves that were best able to retain water during the Atlantic journey to America were able to survive and pass along their genes (in the modern world, retained water can increase blood pressure in blood vessels) to public-health writers that commented on how a good proportion of blacks suffered many inequities in the health care system as well as on their “cultural differences in dietary and physical activity patterns.” The young Dr. Tweedy also started doing research with a faculty member that focused on lifestyle-based approaches on treating hypertension and heart disease.

When he talked about how “healthy” he was based on his weight and appearance, it stuck with me because that’s how I’ve been personally judging my health for years…I figured as long as I went to the gym regularly, avoided trans fats and maintained my weight range, I’d be good to go. But I’m learning that there is much more to good health than feeling healthy. It sounds very simple and intuitive, but here I am assessing my health based on appearance while blinding myself from other vital signs that matter. With an unhealthy diet, you can be as fit as a beach model and have a blood pressure of 150/100. It’s kinda scary ain’t it? Turns out one of the measures of gauging your true healthiness is taking your blood pressure and keeping it at a safe level. Reading what Dr. Tweedy had to say on that has also made me a bit more conscious of what I put in my body because I found that I have a pretty high-salt diet too…and when I practiced blood pressure readings with my classmates earlier this semester, I had a bit of a higher blood pressure reading than normal…😰😰😰. Now I’m finding myself examine in detail the sodium content of every food item I buy and I’m realizing there is a TON of salt in almost everything I like to eat. Great. Now I gotta cut back on homemade quesadillas, ham sandwiches, meatballs, and all the convenient processed foods I’ve been eating for so long. Ima have to be eating a damn apple for lunch and lettuce for dinner.

One more thing that has been randomly on my mind recently is the issue of racial categorization in America and across the world. I honestly don’t get it.  How can you try and categorize a person’s ethnicity based on appearance alone? Who comes up with the rules regarding what a person’s ethnicity and race is? Is a white woman who was born in Ghana and whose parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived in Ghana not an African woman? Or is she still labeled as Caucasian because of her appearance even if the only culture she associates with is the Ghanaian culture? Or is an Asian-American man who only knows Swedish culture and whose ancestors happened to come from Sweden not Swedish because he has the ”stereotypical features” of an Asian man? How many of y’all automatically assumed I was talking about a Chinese-American man when I said Asian? Isn’t a man from India technically an Asian man? Or can a black woman born and raised in Germany not automatically be assumed as German because of the color of her skin? Does an American-born black woman with Japanese, Egyptian and French blood running thru her veins have to still check the African-American box because simply because she’s black? Is she not 1/3 Japanese, 1/3 Egyptian and 1/3 French? Or is she also “part-American”? Or is being American classified as a culture? Why does she have to be fractioned, can she not be 100% Japanese, 100% Egyptian and 100% French? Again I ask, who the hell controls these categorizations?? Are stereotypes really powerful enough to allow us to judge one another’s characteristics and nature based on appearances alone? Better yet, is the media responsible for reinforcing the stereotypes that control the way we think about one another? Does the media take certain aspects of different cultures, attach them to people of that culture and create the stereotypes that are ingrained in each of our heads?

Hell, maybe I’m crazy. I’m here asking questions that very few people, if any, actually have the true answers to. But it does get you thinking. I mean, I’m just as guilty when it comes to assuming what someone’s personality traits are based on appearances alone because I’m human like everyone else. I’m exposed to the media that everyone else is exposed to on a constant basis. I’ve had countless people tell me numerous things about people of other races and ethnicities throughout my lifetime. But I’ve made it, and continue to make it, a mission to break the habit of assuming what other people are like whenever I can by meeting new people and learning from their experiences and their respective cultures, which in turn helps to hopefully improve their ingrained perceptions about people that look like me. I just believe that there is much more to each human being on this Earth than their appearance. Each person has a story that is made up of a collection of their thoughts, experiences, habits, overall culture, etc. Will every person in the world realize that? Probably not. All I can do is continue to break down negative stereotypes and try to show people that we are all much more than what we look like.

That’s all I gotta say on that, thanks for listening to my rant. 😁

Now I gotta figure out what I’m gonna be for Halloween.

Y’all be blessed!

– Black Man, M.D.