Over the past week, my husband, the love of my life, my best friend, the one who gets me, the one who made me believe in love in ways I never thought I could, had a medical emergency.
I did not and do not feel like social justicing.
Yes, I created a verb out of social justice. You know it was only a matter of time.
I do not feel like -isming. That is, coming against social ills like, racism, ageism, ableism, heterosexism.
Most of us are trying to do life the best we know how as humans. When in the midst of a crisis, who wants an -ism to add to the list?
One moment my husband is well and the next moment, we are in the hospital room with a cardiologist explaining testing and treatment options. It happened so fast. I prayed. I sought for an answer about the situation. I needed to know, “God, what do you say about it?”
After all, He has the final say.
I felt this spiritual peace—the kind that surpasses understanding, situations, and logic. I had this deep knowing that he would be okay. Having peace did not mean this situation was not painful, scary, or that prayers were unnecessary. This knowing encouraged me not be be paralyzed by fear from the roar of this lion of a situation. I am thankful that husband is recovering. We are experiencing another opportunity of deepening and strengthening our faith and our relationship.
Again, when the bottom falls out of the floor, and when it is life or death, who has time to social justice?
Such questions are often cop-outs.
And you and I do not make time to do ability, age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities. We already do.
We can attempt to escape by checking out or ignoring, but disconnecting does not rid of it. Living more authentically and connected to ourselves and the world around us are even more reasons to intentionally dismantle, rethink, and transform the ways we culturally construct our world. We can pretend that suddenly when a crisis hit, that we morph into neutral entities, only beings where our social identities have no baring.
However, our social world works differently.
Race in the Hospital Room
Throughout the experience with my husband in the hospital, race remained present. Not because I pulled out my race card along with my insurance card wherever I went. The White medical professionals pulled out their invisible race cards without having to say a word. The interactions of staff with my husband and me communicated they had some kind of thing about race. Communication is more than words, including our communication about race.
Numerous interracial couples know about getting “looks.”
Looking is not bad. If you are unaccustomed to seeing or interested, I think it makes sense to look. I look. I get excited and interested. Usually, I smile at them because I know what it is like to get otherwise. Besides, I look at different people-a lot, almost in a perpetual state of reading/discerning spaces and people. Most of the professionals, who were White, acted as if they had rarely seen or engaged with a interracial couple before. It was as if they did not know how to deal or make sense of seeing a Black and White person in the hospital room together. And I kept getting looks like, “Why are you here?” Not in a surprise party or run into friends while out on the town happy to see you kind of way. More in a weird neoconservative and neoliberal cocktail of assumptions, awkwardness, friendliness, uneasiness, with a splash of Jim Crowesque judgment kind of way.
Doctors can let their cultural ignorance lead to unprofessional behavior.
One example of this interaction was when one of the cardiologists asked if either of us had questions. When I asked questions, she looked as if she did not expect me to have any questions. She acted as if it drained part of her life force to acknowledge my presence in the room. Then, at the end of one of the worse interactions I had with a doctor (and I have interacted with a lot in my own healing journey), the cardiologist said to my husband, “If you were my husband, I would tell you to xyz.” We did not ask her about what she would say to her spouse or to imagine if she was my husband’s spouse and how to respond. It was like an empathy fail: how not to put yourself in another person’s shoes. The verbal and nonverbal communication combined made me concerned about this cardiologist’s ability to monitor her own beliefs and biases to provide excellent care throughout all components of her work. Unprofessionalism in one area of her practice raised questions about the level of professionalism and excellence in the other areas of practice.
Furthermore, the cardiologist assumed we wanted her to perform the procedure, as she informed us that she would not be at the hospital the next day. I thought that there was no way in the Prince of Egypt that she was going to do a dern thang with her energy, spirit, vibe, attitude, or whatever you want to call it. Not today, Satan. This is my husband’s life. Before we could even say anything, He provided a different cardiologist because He already knew. The other cardiologists were all-around excellent. It was a night and day difference. I thanked God, again.
Making Race A Thing
These observations gave me more to pray about in the situation, because I wanted a positive outcome for my husband. When I sensed the medical professionals making race a thing-an issue, I had to go within and assuage fear, trying to well up. I did not want any medical professionals’ race card to impact my husband’s level of care.
As for nurses and patient care assistants, my husband and I agreed that his first ones, both White women, were the best. I think they could support their colleagues. Also, I noticed something about the Women of Color in various roles. The Woman of Color who was in training, seemed comfortable. The other, who was an assistant, seemed very relaxed and at ease. None acted like we were alien life forms quarantined at Area 51. Another Woman of Color in another department acted like it was another day at work- that we were just humans, not a circus side-show. Interestingly, my experiences and observations were supported by studies on racial biases, as well as, disparities in health care.
I thought my husband was unaware of any of the racial communication, given the weight of the situation, physical state, hubbub of medical professionals in out of rooms, and tubes and wires attached to his body.
But, he noticed.
After being discharged from the hospital and getting back into home life, he mentioned, “You would think by now they were used to it.”
Yes, you would think.
It bothers me even more about the whole thing of it all, especially when colorblind self-righteous people argue that racism exists because people bring up race.
Emergencies aside, race being a thing bothers me, especially when people think they do not have to address any aspect of their lives to help make it nothing. When people do not think it necessary to grow and stretch in these areas, they help create and raise issues through their willful ignorance. They pull out invisible race cards and live them out, with the expectation of no one calling them on it.
I look for silver linings. My husband is alive and well. Most of the hospital professionals were pleasant and treated my husband well in their care. They seemed to like their work and appeared to do their best. With more training and some personal work on diversity issues, they could be even more phenomenal for all people, not just ones that fit their comfort zones.
The Privilege of Checking Out
Who gets to take a day off of not thinking about and checking out on race? Who has privilege to ignore social justicing? Fundamentally, we have a choice in our thoughts and actions. My questions concern how the social world brings these issues to the foreground of peoples lives. Most likely those who do not experience racism or those who experience racism, yet, use denial as a coping mechanism, choose to focus on other things. If we benefit from racial advantages, we are more inclined to not think or feel the need to consider race, compared to those who experience racism.
Over the years, I have noticed that the unacknowledged struggles of life is one reason why different hard-working White people get ticked off at the concept of “White privilege.” Different White people look at their daily lives and wonder things like:
- Where is my racial tooth fairy to leave a wad of money under my pillow every night?
- Why didn’t my Whiteness keep me from experiencing loss?
- Why didn’t it stop the attack?
- Why didn’t it stop the rape?
- Why didn’t it stop the divorce?
- What about my sacrifices and sleepless nights to take care of my family?
- What about my rocky childhood?
Privilege can be misunderstood as a life of ease—that having a White social identity grants a luxurious life. It is not the reality for most White people. In the United States, for the overall society, being White has allowed race to commonly be one less concern in life or allowed a bit more advantage to the hard work. For any of us, social issues can either be one less thing or one more, depending on our social identities and the dominant culture of our residence.
Our pride can get in the way of realizing that we can experience suffering and still have privileges. We can be poor in the United States and be privileged to be materially richer than the poor in a developing nation. When we look at the power differential within the U.S. society, those with less marginalized identities are commonly more social options of numbing or checking out. For example, when we do not live in a war torn community, some of us might not have a daily concern about the impact of war in different parts of the world. Similarly, when a man lives in a world that privileges his gender, sexism might not be on his immediate radar. He can focus on other aspects of life. As for the woman who is not only dealing with life, but also does not have the psychological or material privilege of ignoring the sexism she faces it at work, gender is ever present. The parents concerned about their gay child being bullied at school do not have the privilege of being numb to heterosexism to only focus on other issues like caring for their aging parents or paying the bills.
Our sense of cultural alignment can unknowingly create a raceless feeling- a feeling of normal. A White couple in a hospital might not think about race, because they are perceived by as more aligned with the dominant White racial culture of the hospital. A poor white couple might have deal with a majority White hospital staff treating them like they are less than because of class, and yet they might get a bit of racial reprieve as compared to the poor Chicano couple. Understandably, some of us might be so entangled in personal trauma that we do not want to even bother. By and large, this issue does not explain most of societies’ racial (or other social identities) disconnect. Typically, those who do not have time for dealing with a particular social identity have more advantage from it. No matter what happens in life, we still carry different privileges and advantages with us.
The Privilege of the Margins
Being on the margins is not necessarily a bad thing. It can create a unique vantage point to our societal blind spots. It can serve to sharpen and grow us. By having one more thing to deal with gives one more opportunity to be strengthened. As a result, we can handle multiple challenges, with varying degrees of urgency and priority. The amazing grace of God, who through humanity worked out everything for my husband.
This experience has shown me something incredible at work, rumbling beneath the surface of our lives and the country. Something powerful beyond the hospital walls made its way there. If I lived numb to race or checked out from social justicing, I would have limited the scope of God’s work to a medical emergency. God’s miracle manifested in the mercy and grace in the people of His creation. I count the people who chose to work hard, even with their racial discomfort, was a victory for humanity. The individuals, family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, of different ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, ethnicities, nationalities, religions who prayed, visited, called, emailed, texted, sent good vibes and words of encouragement were evidence of Divine goodness in humanity. They symbolized the privilege of not getting to take the day off from our various identities-the privilege of the margins. Because had we racially checked out, we would not have fully appreciated the vast, diverse, and unifying power of God’s love.