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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"I'm just not used to all the N**gers touching me"

Recently we had a minor from the Deep South travel to the clinic where I work. I work in a clinic whose staff is a majority women of color and two-thirds of our doctors are also people of color. It was obvious from early on in her visit that this woman was slightly uncomfortable. I am one of two white staff members, and the other was out on vacation during this patient's two-day visit. She seemed scared and obviously responded to me better than anyone else despite the fact that I am not a clinical staff member. After being sedated she didn't want help getting dressed or getting to the recovery room, because it meant more people of color touching her. The patient's health and safety has to be our number-one priority regardless of her overt racism.

White women often come into our clinic and inadvertently direct their eyes at me when they ask questions, even though the woman of color standing next to me might be the person with the best answer to their question. Its often difficult to balance validating my co-workers' knowledge and ability with the desire to make the patient comfortable no matter how prejudiced or ignorant she might be. We have lots of women travel here from many places, including rural areas where overt racism is alive and well. I don't believe there is ever a justification for white people to use the "N" word. Really no one should, but that's a complex issue that I don't feel equipped to analyze.

The other women in the clinic where I work were appalled by this patient's overt verbal racism, and so was I. And there are so many other white patients who don't use such overt language to assert their racist attitudes. So often white women ask me questions, or try to get answers from me, or in some way validate my authority over other staff members. I find it really hard to figure out how to respond in those instances. I want to challenge other white people to realize the way racism operates in very inadvertent ways. I want them to realize racism is embedded in the assumed validation of my authority over a woman of color who has worked in the clinic for 20+ years.

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