The Reason I Chose Pediatrics… A Fight Against Implicit Bias…

One reason that I chose pediatrics as a career was to make a positive change in the lives and health of those underserved and to be a role model not only for people who look like me but for everyone I come in contact with in society to help dispel stereotypical thinking by others not used to seeing or many times undervaluing black professionals. I love to work with children and their parents from the side of early life experiences, while they are still plastic (moldable), where my presence and advocacy for them can make a positive difference or change in the trajectory of their path in life, hopefully encouraging someone in those families I care for to make better choices in life and I become a part of the village that it takes to raise a child, then they can pass the same on to another by example. Many times I am not only affecting the child but the parents who often times are children themselves being teenaged or young adults, still impressionable also. A lot of limitations are self imposed and can be overcome, but are generational in nature and stem from sequential historical events that have systematically stripped an entire population along racial lines of basic human rights and dignity for so long that they have given up, lost all self worth, accepting their lot in life “as inferior to” and powerless to those with power over them so have learned coping mechanisms of survival within a microcultural community consisting of those disparaged leading others who are disparaged “the blind leading the blind”, teaching and “mentoring” alternative (wrong) ways to “succeed” learned in “the streets” and unfortunately many have resorted to self destructive behaviors, such as using drugs to self medicate, numbing the pain, which alter the mind, effects judgement, creates dependency in those predisposed, then once afflicted, that altered mentality leads one towards participation in gangs and violence seeking validation and misguided attention as they spiral downwards as an inverse result of damage to the psyche from centuries of oppression and degradation much of which is still perpetuated even in modern times just “by another name,” a set of conditions that is proven scientifically to create psychosocial dysfunction amongst the people in that society who as individuals and/or as a group, have been affected by the trauma of terrorism, fear and isolation with no hope for escape, they suffer from hopelessness. This hopelessness can be reversed but takes a change in vision, many times just seeing the possibility of a different life by seeing themselves represented in a different more positive light and/or hearing the stories of others who have overcome the same adversities and have made it. Then they feel like they can too…

This is why children need to see people who look like them doing great things. They need to see diversity amongst people not just one dimensional “stereotypical” images, but universal three dimensional “non stereotypical” images. Exclusion of some from access to the same opportunities as another has shaped society into what it is today where one exclusive group has privilege and the other disparaged group has disadvantage. Self hate may become unconsciously learned during early childhood development when identity being established in children, this self awareness begins at a very young age. Minority children are aware of being ‘different’ once they leave the home and enter a social place such as school of the majority culture where attention is brought to anything about oneself that is not of the majority, whether their race, color, creed or disability. Even when there are no prejudices voiced or intended, children are intuitive and can see for themselves that they ‘don’t fit in the norm’ and are different. They naturally want to blend in with the majority and may feel sad about being unable to do so. They also can see who is depicted on TV, in movies, on magazine covers and in the classroom as beautiful, smart and powerful. So quite naturally want to emulate those they idolize. This is why it is important to have minority social and professional events to feature, celebrate and showcase individual cultures and abilities that otherwise may not be embraced or represented due to shear dilution and/or exclusion in majority events of the same kind or genre. It is not always an issue of prejudice but that of self love that is inclusive of own culture and traditions which imprints on us at an early age that needs to be acknowledged and nurtured, first by us to us, empowering ourselves to know, love and have pride in our legacy then extend an invitation to include others to share by having a conversation with those who might not be consciously aware of their micro aggressions and insensitive behaviors and/or comments. Everyone should have the experience of attending a place where they are the minority, to be able to identify with the dilemma of fitting into a culture foreign to their own, the culture shock, awkwardness and discomfort of that, but yet minorities have had to assimilate often times with denial of self to make others comfortable. Many times it is curiosity that drives unwanted attention, offensive and perceived intrusive conversation, the context of which may be filled with implicitly biased or prejudiced content learned over time as true, based on individual life experiences and exposures. Since schools tend to be our first exposure to social groups of different cultures, teachers can teach tolerance and sensitivity, particularly towards those marginalized. Some ways teachers can encourage sensitivity amongst students is to talk about different cultures of people, show them in a positive light, introduce books by a variety of writers including ethnically diverse authors, use media that have diverse characters including those with physical, developmental or other challenges too. Young children have the unique ability to be accepting of everyone regardless of demographics until biased by adults, then they learn to be otherwise. Children are also naturally curious and frankly truthful about their observations which translates into their asking questions that may make adults feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, then they are immediately hushed. This moment could be used as an opportunity to teach children about differences in people and about what could be misconstrued as rude and hurtful. Of course you can save yourself some grief by already having had a conversation with your children about diversity in people, e.g., different sizes, shapes, colors, sex, abilities, etc., and the proper way to behave in public when they encounter such people. Do not, however, stifle their curiosity, have them ask their questions in the proper setting and answer them using proper unbiased context, keeping it simple and to their level of development. The age when children begin to realize that other people have feelings just like themselves is around three years old, before that it is all about “me” in the id stage of the terrible two’s. So it is the parents who can introduce their children to cultural diversity at an early age but the most important message is that people are a dynamic and more alike than different, find the things you have in common, get to know each other as people, become friends first then as part of the natural progression, you’ll be “invited” into each other’s more intimate lives…

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