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To Women Who Think My Chronic Illness Experience Has Nothing to Do With Race

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More often than not, white women tell me, a woman of color, that my experiences with doctors have nothing to do with race. If anything, they tell me, it has to do with the fact that I’m a woman. This is problematic, and it is dangerous.

To invalidate the very crux of my argument — to say that my issues aren’t about race — is to shut down and shut up my voice, as I try to explain to my white peers what it is that I must contend with on top of my womanhood, femininity, womanness. We should be supporting each other as women instead of getting defensive about our differences.

I want white women to know that telling my stories does not silence theirs. In saying that I have gone through discrimination because of my color does not mean that I am saying that they haven’t gone through discrimination because they are women. Rather, telling our stories is an important opportunity to dialogue. The most productive comments that I have received in response to telling my experiences, for example, were ones that were from white women who spoke to the larger fact that we face issues in dealing with the medical profession because we are women, while also acknowledging very candidly that my experiences aren’t like theirs. Women of color are additionally discriminated against because of our color.

As a woman of color, my experience is inherently tied into issues of race, politics, history, and resistance in a way that it is not for my white women counterparts. And I am constantly told that my opinions and thoughts do not matter.

I am reminded of the time when I went to the pain specialist in late 2016. Donald Trump had just been elected president of the United States. I was severely depressed, as I suffer from major depressive disorder and the election triggered me as a woman, as a black woman, as a person. When the doctor found out that I was depressed, he told me that my pain was a result of my depression. No matter what I told him, I was ultimately ignored and then treated as a hostile patient by this doctor because I continued to advocate for myself and told him that my psychiatrist of four years could confirm that my pain was not “in my head.” However, it didn’t matter what I said, and it didn’t matter that I was in noticeable pain. I tell this story because my voice didn’t matter then, even though I felt I had to justify everything I was saying.

And now, as I’m writing at this very moment, I realize that my voice feels stifled and I am finding myself trying to give examples to justify what I’m saying. I know that I’m right. I’m advocating for myself right now.

Please do not feel threatened because I say that my experiences are different from yours. Just trust me, like doctors should trust their patients. Does [what I say] mean that you haven’t suffered or experienced discrimination? Absolutely not! Does it mean that there are things that others experience that you probably don’t understand? Yes!

As I continue to share my stories with people, I hope to further engage with and dialogue about the way the medical profession treats all people with chronic illness, including women, people of color, LGBTQ people, people in lower socioeconomic positions, and those who are disabled. My life and life’s work are about exposure and bringing discrimination to light, so that people can learn and do something about it.

In short, my favorite scholar, Audre Lorde, writes, “It is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences [that separate us].” There is no shame in acknowledging the fact that we are treated differently based on race, gender, sexuality, class, education, et al. The problem is when we pretend that those differences do not exist. Then, we invalidate one another. We silence one another. And then we are no better than the ones we are working to advocate against.

Getty photo by skyNext

Originally published: July 27, 2018
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