Black Physician: Sun-Kissed Melanin in Medicine

My parents are black. Their parents are black. And their parents are black. The lineage is unwavering in its sun-kissed melanin complexion. A beautiful color, a master piece. My family is of the darker skin tone. Our hair rises like crowns. Our noses wide at the base. Our lips full and our eyes dark. Our ancestors were field hands. Our ancestors were called Sambos. Our ancestors were beaten, hung, and lynched without remorse. We do not look at trees the same as our majority counterparts. We have seen strange fruit hang on crooked branches. We do not raise our children the same as our majority counterparts. We have seen little boys electrocuted for unquestioned lies spoken from the majority. We do not have the same comforts and privileges as our majority counterparts. My family is black and it shows. It always shows.

We’ve spent generations aspiring to achieve what some may think is the American dream. But it is not that simple and we are not that naïve. We know that dream is not for us. That dream is not ours. We are not privy to believing we can obtain something that is not meant for us. We strive for more than complacency with the status quo. Our vision is not belittled by the majority’s casual normative but heightened by the belief that our lives are worth more than what is perceived, represented, and acted upon in society.

I challenge that normative. I am a black physician. I have spent many years learning in formal education institutions surrounded by mostly majority counterparts. I have experienced and learned about the death gaps and health disparities. My formal teachings were thorough to an extent but I was not taught enough with black patient cases and black patient images. I was not challenged enough to think how this problem may present in my culture and community.

I spent a lot of time learning about medicine but not enough about how I could help save myself, a black human, from the inevitable health gaps and disappointments.

After this realization I focused on obtaining this knowledge on my own time, out of necessity. I have extrapolated data and recommendations to relate to “my patient population”. Because few researchers care enough to diversify their patient pool to include diverse races, economic status, education levels, and cultural beliefs. But that does not stop me from applying evidence based medicine to provide the best care for my patient population, my majority black patient population, as a black family physician.

Dr. Hood’s 1959 rejection letter from Emory School of Medicine due to his negro race

I do not have the luxury of separating my profession from my personal life. I will always be a black physician. My patients see a black physician and with that comes a unique level of trust because we, black people, have faced biases in every aspect of our lives so to see our own, to have representation, is no small feat. Challenging the normal is a daily expectation and acceptance. I am my ancestors’ wildest dream. My black perspective is shaped by my black experiences within this country and has influenced how I practice medicine, how I care for patients, and is what fuels my passion to help the black community. My family is black and it shows in how I carry and motivate myself. We have seen strange fruit hang from crooked branches. We have hoped our presence in previously closed spaces would change the narrative and change the norm. I am not here to be a placeholder or token. The health disparities that exist need another champion.

Coronavirus 19 highlighted what many health professionals were already aware of. Those working in areas with blatant health disparities see firsthand how death gaps and access gaps are heightened disproportionately in black communities. It is no secret. It is a tough process and environment to combat. Policies and finances are strangling the potential for progress. As a primary care doctor my job is not only to help a patient’s medical problem, my job is to help patients gain access to resources that can help address their social determinants of health. The normative that has been accepted in our society settles on health disparities being permanent and not adjustable even with the grandest efforts from previous and current catalysts for change. The system is not made to be constantly juxtaposed with human rights conversations and actions and the notion that this country can still do a lot better because this creates a combative environment.

This pandemic pulled out the racial disparities from the attic, walked it out the front door, laid it in the front yard and set it on fire for everyone to see. The vulnerable populations. The unemployment. The political turmoil. The poor resource allocation. The death rates. The despair. All there for the country and world to see. I empathized with patients as we navigated ways to access their medication. I encouraged therapy for those who acknowledged that the black community doesn’t talk about mental health enough. I wrote letters for time away from work and disability leave for patients who worked at places that did not believe in safety protocols. I watched our already full hospital get tanked by patients with limited treatment options, praying modern medicine could continue to support their frail bodies.

For years my full heart has spoken four simple words to acknowledge the heaviness of the health disparities, racial disparities, police brutality, and injustices faced in the black community. Black bodies keep falling. Black bodies keep falling. I have watched health disparities prematurely take the lives of black people because of health access and negatively crippling social determinants of health. I have watched racial disparities leave the employment, housing, education, and criminal justice systems to depreciate, dismantle, and destroy black lives because of the inconvenience of providing basic human rights for all citizens.

My family is black and for generations has faced the undesired discrimination and oppression that many other black families have endured. Making small steps toward progress and change I know my job is not as simple as just being a physician.

As a black physician with hair that rises like a crown, with sun-kissed melanin skin, with full lips and a wide nose I am challenging the norm in my profession.

Dr. Harris graduate of Georgetown University School of Medicine and a family medicine physician

Infiltrating the system in order to combat health disparities and uplift my black community. I have continued to be a champion for my community. Proud to be a catalyst. My family is black and it shows. Black bodies keep falling and it saddens me. I am not an outlier but the beautiful descendent of an ancestry that has shown strength despite the circumstances and perseverance despite the backlash. I sacrificed to become a black physician. I am here to stay. My passion is to challenge the health disparities and social determinants of health that exist, one patient and community at a time.

I am a black physician. I am black.

Carefree black girl. Science geek. Unapologetic poet. Michigan made. Flint raised. Former engineer. Your local family doctor. BLK FAM DOC

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