At the outset, I am reaching out to make sure you’re OK, because it’s been a crazy couple of weeks for us. It’s been crazy for others, too, but right now, I’m focusing on our/your unique perspective because perhaps for the entirety of your life, you’ve been informed, directly or indirectly, of your place in society.
Television, movies, advertisements, friends, family, your places of work and your places of play regularly inform you of your opportunities to do well—or even not so well. But, the past several weeks were different. You saw other men of color have their “societal places” leveraged against them in the most unfortunate and tragic manners imaginable.
Of course, these recorded events became public references for those who do not walk in your shoes, yet you had to witness them play out. And you had to feel them play out. Because men of color can’t help but identify differently.
A very dear friend of mine, another man of color, reacted to some of the imagery, saying “That would never happen to a white man.” I haven’t been able to get that phrase out of my head, since. I have several times wondered how he was able to muster the strength to type those words. But, then again, I wondered if his original thought was “This would only happen to a black man.”
When I watched a law enforcement officer with his knee on Brother Floyd’s neck, I was equally as horrified as the onlookers who observed. Just like them, I was wondering how he could survive that. As a physician, I was concerned of his neck vessels, his spine and his trachea. But as a man, a man of color, an African American man, I was aghast at the idea that Brother Floyd’s pride, dreams—and his very dignity—were being taken away.
I write this letter to you because these are very difficult ideas to swallow: that there are certain acts which can only be committed against us, and so, in a manner which serves to publicly drown us of our dignity.
These notions hurt. And, again, I know they’re not new, but they’re unavoidable, given what we’ve lived and seen.
You have been presented with the ideas that your dreams, your dignity and your very life matter less. And you’ve listened quietly, too numb to react, while people get outraged by rioting and looting. But they’re not outraged by the ideas you’re dealing with because they don’t have to deal with them. Rioting matters, looting matters and property matters more to them.
And you’ve listened quietly, too numb to react, while people argue whether Brother Floyd was an upstanding citizen or not, if he had pre-existing medical problems or not. You’ve listened to reports he died on the way to the emergency department, perhaps due to some other issue.
None of this is new to you because it has been your life. You’ve seen this play out daily, weekly and your entire life. You’ve formed an entire personality and self-awareness around these dynamics, so this is not new.
But the reason I am worried about you today: We are not used to witnessing recordings of such graphic, horrific, demoralizing displays of our trials. And while you have awkwardly tried to discuss your concerns on rare occasion—the ideas about which you are not proud—you’ve been ignored and cast aside. You even peacefully took a knee out of concern for your life and ours. Instead of listening, they quickly deflected and changed the subject to the flag, the military, or things which seemingly matter more.
Indeed, the notion that your dignity, your life and your dreams to do well in life matter less is a bitter pill you have contemplated swallowing. But wait! Before you swallow that pill—that your life matters less—I have some information about that pill: THAT PILL IS POISON! IT IS A LIE!!
While it is true that because of your skin color, people underestimate you, your capacity to do well and even your intentions. And, yes It is true that because of the color of your skin, you’re associated with a lot of things you’re not. However, the minute you give in to these ideas, and start entertaining them as truths, you will be, in effect, kneeling on your own neck.
Remember, men of color from all over the world have done well, since the dawn of time. We each have our own style, our own language, our own skills and our own talents. Yes, we can do very well for ourselves. Men of color learn other ways to do well based on other valuables we bring to the table, such as our curiosity, our self-awareness and our self-reflection—things which come naturally to being part of a minority group. We are already practiced at diversity, and we have already learned how to function in at least two worlds.
Personally, I’d rather be underestimated so I can have a chance or several chances at small victories, and then gradually start achieving bigger ones. Yes, I say we best not wait for others to tell us whether or not we matter, or how well we can do; we’d be better off proving it to ourselves, one victory followed by another, learning from each and every experience. Reject that pill and let’s get back to building ourselves up, our families and our communities. When our children’s children are told of today’s events, let’s make sure they’re inspired by how we responded, how we rebounded with a win and #keepwinning!!
—Sean T. Hubbard, M.D.
Reprinted with permission from Dr. Sean Hubbard