Numerous articles have been written on the
impact of race on access to healthcare. We now
see alarming health disparities which find racial
minorities more likely to be infected with COVID
-19 and experience serious and fatal outcomes. We have
learned that there are many factors involved in a group’s
access to healthcare. If the emotional and social climate is
not conducive to a sense of trust, then healthcare may be
avoided with a very negative affect.
We are coming to understand that we are not alone in our
struggles in life. We are part of a culture, a race or
community, all of which impact us in various ways. There are
positive ways in which our sense of culture is protective. We
may identify with the strengths of our history and tradition
and experience pride but there is another part of our
experience of race and culture. That is the issue of how we
are perceived by others.
I will briefly share an experience told to me by one of our
members. She was about to have surgery and was being
wheeled into the operating room with her surgeon, whom
she had known for years, at her head and the
anesthesiologist whom she had just met at her foot. They
were having a lively conversation about an upcoming Ohio
State game. The ride down the hall seemed to take forever.
The two male physicians were having a good time talking
sports. The patient felt left out. Finally, perhaps out of sheer
anxiety, she said to the anesthesiologist “when we get to the
operating room are you going to ask me to count backwards
from 100?” Perhaps, somewhat miffed by this interruption,
the anesthesiologist said to her, “OK when we get to be
operating room I’ll ask you to count money.” He said that in a
somewhat arch and condescending tone. What was the
intention of this comment? Was it a crude attempt at humor?
Was there some other message? We will never know but the
memory remained with the patient for many years.
Ambiguous social interactions with minority individuals are
not unique. Often micro aggressions are only dimly perceived
by the speaker and the recipient of the comment. When
discussed, the speaker may say, ”well I never meant that to
harm you in any way, I was just making a joke.”
Nonetheless the world of persons perceived as minority is
often unlike those of the dominant or majority group. This
may lead to social distancing and actual social avoidance.
When you believe you’re being judged, being condescended
to or in some way not being treated as an individual but as a
stereotype there is ample opportunity for a wide range of
forms of social discomfort and mistrust.
Scientists Start to Tease Out the Subtler Ways
Racism Hurts Health—NPR, November 11, 2017—Rae
The day Dr. Roberto Montenegro finished his Ph.D. was
memorable. But not for the right reasons.
“I still cringe when I think about it,” says Montenegro.
It had started well. His colleagues at UCLA had taken him
and his girlfriend (now wife) out to a fancy restaurant to
“I was dressed up in the fanciest suit I had at the time
and my wife looked beautiful, like always,” he says. “We
laughed and we ate and we were excited we didn’t have to
pay for this.”
Montenegro was elated—celebrating a hard-won step
toward his dream of becoming a physician-scientist. There
had been so many late nights, so much work. But now, he
had a Ph.D. in sociology and was headed to medical school
at the University of Utah.
“I felt like a king,” Montenegro wrote in an article for the
journal JAMA last year. At the end of the evening, the
couple got in line to pick up their car from the valet outside.
They were third in line when a Jaguar pulled up to the curb.
“And you see this woman get out of her car,” says
Montenegro. The woman must not have seen the valets,
though they were wearing red vests.
“She passes the first couple, she passes the second
couple, she gets to me and she hands me her keys,” says
The valets, Montenegro says, looked Latino—like him.
The woman, who wasn’t, assumed he was a valet, too. He
was so shocked he just took the keys as she dropped them
into his hand.
“I didn’t know what to say, what to do,” Montenegro
says. “But I vividly remember turning red, and I don’t often
turn red. And I remember my heart pounding. I remember
feeling really confused and hurt and angry.”
Five minutes later, still standing in line waiting for his car,
it happened again. Another person handed him their keys.
“I was at the pinnacle of my celebration, and with one
swift action, I was dismissed, he wrote in JAMA. “I was
It wasn’t the first time that Montenegro had run into racist
assumptions, and it wouldn’t be the last. At various research
conferences, academics he doesn’t know have tried to order
drinks from him. In medical school and during his medical
residency, he was sometimes assumed to be a technician at
the hospital—even when wearing his white doctor’s coat.
“It makes you question yourself and makes you feel
confused and shocked,” he says. “It was a constant reminder of
feeling like I would never fit in.”
In conclusion the story of one of our branch members
plus the NPR article on social stereotyping will be thought provoking. Have we been the target of negative stereotypes?
Have we made assumptions about others? Have the
assumptions been meant in a benign way but received in a way
that caused pain? I think if we continue discussion of these
issues, perhaps with a sharing of our own experiences will be
the beginning of a dialogue to help us toward a better and
more culturally competent future.
for the Diversity Committee