Black. Female. Doctor. Black female, female doctor, black doctor. . .
Black, female doctor – that’s what I am. I’m a doctor, I’m a female, and I’m black. Is that too much for me to be?
Black. That’s the first thing that hits you when you see me – the only thing you can think of. Whether you’re Caucasian or Latino, Asian, or even African, that’s the first thing that comes to your mind. Not that I’m a doctor or that I’m a woman, but the conspicuous, and to some, the disgusting color of my skin – black.
You scrunched up your nose when I walked by you. Did I have a repulsive smell? No, I didn’t. Anyone could sink into my Victoria’s Secret perfume. Why then did you look me up and down? Why the abrupt shifting when my hand accidentally brushed yours?
My eyes swept over each person in the library that day: the librarian immersed in a novel, an old man nodding his head in sleep, two children drooling over Archie comic books, and you. I didn’t notice it before because I wasn’t looking, but at that moment, the awareness of my oddness made my mouth taste like bile.
No, I wasn’t odd. I was just like you and you were like me – perfectly human. But your scorn wrongfully defined me as the ape most mocked my race for. My race is in the minority, and one you deemed shameful. I’m black, the only person of color in that library, which according to you was my sin. Because I couldn’t conceal the distinctive color of my skin, I sprinted out of my second home and hid myself instead.
Black female. That’s what he made me aware of – I was somebody nobody found attractive.
“All the guys can come to my party, but only pretty girls are allowed. That means any female darker than my hand isn’t invited.” Michael Tucson said. He lifted his palm for all to see, and the realization that my skin was richer in melanin made it hard for me to swallow.
I interpreted what he said as ‘black girls are ugly’. I’d never once entertained that thought before then. When I was a child, I always saw myself as a pretty girl with my dark skin, kinky hair, wide nose, brown eyes, and black lips. There was no criteria for beauty then, so I wasn’t sorry for being me – I wasn’t sorry for being a black female. Why should I have been?
Yet, as I grew older, I began to think black girls were ranked among the last in the dating game. I vividly remember sitting in the library once and overhearing some black dudes I had crushes on joke about how they would never date a woman darker than them. Hearing that made my heart sink, because I was darker than every single one of them. In that instance, I began to wonder who would want us if our own black men didn’t. Why did the dating pool for a black woman seem like an ankle-deep puddle? I thought.
Even in social gatherings, most of the boys interacted with the white girls. If I was in a group, the guys would make eye contact with the white girls first before eventually noticing I was there. And unless I went out of my way to stand out – with the exception of the prominence my skin color provided – there was no reason any guy had to communicate with me, much less ask for my number. After all, I wasn’t their ‘preference’ because I didn’t have light skin, a pointed nose, straight hair, and pink lips.
However, those minor incidents never once made me think I was ugly. Mostly, I thought it was all in my head, and no one actually thought black girls were unattractive. But Michael’s words slapped me in the face and gave me the insecurity I never asked for. If it was a white guy who said that, I would’ve brushed off the statement and assumed he was silly. But the fact that Michael – a black boy – hinted that his race’s girls were far from appealing, was just the final straw of self-confidence I’d been grasping onto my whole life.
No – I made a mistake. Michael was black in race, but he wasn’t dark-skinned. Slowly but surely, I’ve started coming to terms with the fact that there are dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned blacks. Michael was a perfect example of the latter, and I, a perfect of the former. All the girls who attended his party that night were either whites or light-skinned blacks, while those of us who sat at home watching back-to-back episodes of our favorite series with popcorn as our comfort were dark-skinned.
Till now, I don’t know what to call what Michael did. It couldn’t be racism, because guys of all races were invited to his party – and he himself was black. It couldn’t also be a sexist act, because girls were invited. Then what should I have called it? Sex-based racism? I didn’t know. But what I knew then was that a girl had to look more white than black before, according to society, she could be beautiful. Since I wasn’t that, I hid myself again.
Black, female doctor. Being a female doctor is bad enough, but when you add black – hell.
“Are you a nurse?” or, “Could you please call a physician?” are common questions they ask any female doctor because a lot of patients find it hard to believe a woman can be called a doctor. However, most – if not all – find it nearly impossible to believe a black woman can be called a doctor, too.
“I’m sorry, but I’m a consultant, and it’s professional advice I’m giving you.” I reply my patients. If I could get a nickel for each time I told them that, I’d be a millionaire. If I got another nickel for every time they re-checked my name tag, and another for when they still insisted on getting a second opinion despite my credentials, I could be a billionaire.
Sometimes, my patients would say shallow things like, “I’m not comfortable with Dr. Stacy in the room” or, “Stacy, why don’t you make yourself useful and clean up the vomit on the floor?”
Statements like those made me grit my teeth and clench my fists tightly, and it usually took a lot of self-control on my part to keep me from screaming harsh retorts like, “If you don’t want me here, you might as well leave this hospital” or, “I have a stethoscope on my neck, and I’m wearing scrubs. How does that make me look like a janitor?”
Yet, even if I lost it and spat my opinions at them, it wouldn’t eradicate the fact that they preferred to listen to male doctors’ advice over mine.
The insult on the injury, however, was the fact that black people had that backward mentality, too. Whether they were light-skinned or dark-skinned blacks, most of them thought the same way.
One of my most defining moments was when a few friends of mine and I were going across the Canadian border for a shopping trip. We were five in number and all from the same undergraduate program, but I was the only black person in the car. As we were ready to cross the border, the black border patrol officer asked us the same questions that they asked everybody like, “Who are you and where are you going?”
And then he asked us, “How do you guys know each other?”
“We’re all in the same health sciences program at McMaster University.” we replied.
“Okay. And what’s it that you guys are trying to do?”
We all said we wanted to be doctors because that was what we wanted to be at the time. Then, he leaned in through the window of the passenger seat where I was, close enough for me to take a whiff of his after-shave and cologne, and raised an eyebrow at me.
“Even you?” he queried.
“Yes . . .” I drawled and shifted a little on my seat.
“Really?” he probed, then smirked. “Are you sure?”
What kind of question is that? I thought moments before the message he was trying to convey hit me. How was it possible that I could be called a woman, black, and also a doctor? To him, it was incredulous. So the dream I’d had for seventeen years to be in the medical profession, he, in seventeen seconds, had already concluded that my looks didn’t fit it. That was incredibly marking for me, and grief hollowed a pit in my stomach as I wound up the window and hid myself once more.
Change. That’s what is needed. But who needs it – you or me?
My heart is thrumming as I walk up to the stage. I wring my hands continually and bite my lower lip. Every intake of breath causes my lungs to burn, and every step that I take feels like I’m walking on needles. Never before had I dreamed of holding the attention of hundreds of eyes, especially if more than half of those eyes belonged to white people. All my life, I’ve been so focused on hiding myself that I never once tried to be in the spotlight. But today was different. Today, I finally had the courage to step out of the cocoon of shame I’d encased myself in. Today, I was going to bleach.
The people who walked this stage before me to bleach gave the rundown of their lives as blacks in a dominantly white community. They told different stories of unjustified arrests, unemployment or underemployment despite their credentials, abuse, mockery, and to the unfortunate, death.
Listening to each person’s account made my eyes water, because I could totally relate to most of their experiences. All of this suffering was just because we got the short end of the stick by being black. Going through this human hell on Earth wasn’t fair on us. That was why I have to bleach – that is why we have to bleach.
“For many years, I’ve known nothing but shame. I hid myself because I was a black female, hid because I was a female doctor, and hid because I was a black doctor.” I began once I managed to reach the stage without dying.
The silence that accompanies my introduction is deafening, as if the whole world was holding its breath, waiting for me to make a mistake. A cold sweat breaks out on my forehead, and I swallow the lump in my throat.
“However, from today, I will reveal myself to the world. I’m sure everyone knows why.”
A murmur of assent, like the crashing of waves on the shore, is the audience’s reply.
“Yet, it would be useless of me to say I would reveal myself to the world without confirming my identity. This, I believe, should be the first step of bleaching.”
I take a long, deep breath to calm my unsteady nerves.
“For a long time, I’ve permitted people to call me by my second name, which is Stacy. But my first name, the one I would like to be called from now on, is Chika. Chika Stacy, if you insist. So if you thought I would let go of my African bloodline, you were completely mistaken.
Chika is an African name – a Nigerian one, to be precise. I stand here before you as Dr. Chika, fearlessly coated in melanin like a proud African, to bleach. Not to whiten my skin, but to remove the tainted image of blacks from your minds.”
Cheers from the audience, which is their response to my bleaching, makes pride swell up within me. Wait – did you think I was going to change myself? Never! If I did that, you would win, and your warped mentality of blacks would remain intact. It’s you that needs to change, not me.
“I’ve never felt more black than the times I wear my white lab coat. If I was in Africa, I wouldn’t have minded that. But because I live and trained in a dominantly white community, the fact that I stood out couldn’t be ignored. It also didn’t help that we’re in a society that believes anything against the majority is wrong. If the majority of the country likes watching movies, anyone that loves reading books is weird. If the majority says joggers are trending, anyone wearing jeans is old-school. That’s why if the majority is white, any black person is considered inferior – abnormal, to some.
But how many blacks must you mock before you see we’re beautiful? How many of us will you reject before you find out we’re educated? How many of us must you wrongfully detain before you know we’re human? And how many of our lives must you take before you realize they matter?”
Silence fills the room again, but this time, I’m not uncomfortable in it. In fact, a new surge of confidence fills me, and my whole body tingles as my passion to bleach becomes overwhelming.
“That is why I’m here. After years of hiding, I stand to change this wrong perspective that has made me uncomfortable in my dark skin. I came here to bleach with these words:
Blacks are also beautiful, so don’t mock us because our features are different. Blacks are also leaders, so don’t make us feel inferior. Blacks are also educated, so don’t downgrade our qualifications. Blacks are also ambitious, so don’t tell us we can’t achieve our dreams. Blacks are also convivial, so don’t snob us. And blacks are also human, so don’t treat us like we’re not.
This is my meaning of bleach – to prove to you that we are also beautiful, leaders, educated, ambitious, convivial, and human. So it’s not us that needs to change ourselves, but you who needs to change your mind-set. Keep the first letters of those words in your mind – b for beautiful, l for leaders, e for educated, a for ambitious, c for convivial, h for human – and bleach. Thank you.”
The thunder of applause that erupts from the audience makes my ears bleed. The uncontrollable smile that parted my lips, I’m sure, is bright enough to make even the sun squint. In the eyes of the people that soaked in every word that dripped out of my mouth, I see acceptance. From the way the white lady in the front gave me an encouraging nod to the way the black man at the side gave me a thumbs up, I know what these people see in me isn’t a color or a gender, but a person pushing for change.
I’m a black, female doctor and no, it’s not too much for me to be. Why should it? I am Dr. Chika, and I’m not ashamed of my identity – no one should. So the next time you see a person, black or white, who wants to change him or herself in order to be accepted by society, tell them my story. No – tell them our story. Tell them it's not them that needs to change a thing, but the world that needs to change its heart.
Tell them B.L.E.A.C.H.