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daup h i n c m s .o rg
When you are new to working as a first a white person in uniform serving in a
responder, the uniform feels foreign. You predominantly Black city.
know that your duty is to be the person
I started working as an EMT on night
running to help someone while others shifts. One night at 2 AM, I decided to go
might be running away. Your job is to keep into a fast food restaurant to buy " lunch. "
someone alive for what is the most perilous When I entered the restaurant, everyone
15 minutes of their life, and yet you rarely get froze. Reflexively, I froze along with everyone
to know if they survived because you have else. For those few seconds, you could hear
to go ensure that the next person makes it a pin drop and I could feel my heartbeat.
through their own 15 minutes of hell. This is I looked around the room, trying to find
the responsibility; this is the purpose of a first what it was that had made these six people
responder. That cycle repeats until usually tense up who had seconds before been joking
long after your shift was supposed to end. with one another and having a good time.
EMTs are so understaffed and underpaid Then it clicked - I was what scared them.
that there is no good alternative to staying These six people had in less than a second
behind for hours. The only other option is assessed that the combination of our idento ignore the calls for help. No matter how tities, them being Black men and me being
tired you might be, a good night's sleep is a white woman in a uniform, could be very
elusive if you know you left someone's cries dangerous for them. They were waiting to see
unanswered. You cancel your plans and if this interaction ended with me purchasing
a burger or ruining their lives. How can you
Over the course of your long shifts, you respond to that? I wanted to point at my
eventually stop noticing the uniform because uniform and say, " No, don't worry about
your uniform is the clothing you wear the me. Can't you see that I'm one of the good
most. It stops feeling like you are playing guys? " But while the time of day and my
dress-up. Thoughts of, " This is what I look race may have made them apprehensive, it
like as an EMT, " get replaced with, " This is was my uniform that instilled fear.
what I look like. " Despite the uniform fading
I did the only thing I could think to do -
to the background for you, it is always very proceed to the counter and order my burger.
much in the foreground for everyone else Over the next few minutes as I waited for
around you. The image of me as a white my food, they slowly began to see me as less
woman in uniform triggers an immediate of a threat and more as a hungry patron.
assessment that is not always positive.
They stopped staring and switched to furtive
Due to the pervasive institutionalized glances, checking every once in a while that
racism in our country, Black people and I had not suddenly decided to hurt them.
other persons of color have often found When my food was ready, the cook came
themselves persecuted by the police for out to ask that I look at his hand that had
nothing more than existing. Instead of been bothering him. It became clear that he
feeling safe upon seeing a police officer, did not have the time or money to afford a
Black people have learned to be afraid for trip to the doctor, so mine was the closest
their lives. This fear does not come from he was going to have for a medical opinion.
nowhere and did not appear overnight.
Several months later, I was moving a
The criminalization of being Black can paraplegic woman off a stretcher into her
be traced back to when they were first bed. She had been discharged from the
enslaved in what is now the United States hospital and her whole family and some
more than 400 years ago. It is impossible neighbors had turned out to celebrate her
to understand where we are today with homecoming. With so many people milling
the Black Lives Matter protests without about, one of the children bumped into
the context of how we have systematically the closet door and caused a loud crash
mistreated people of color throughout our that made me jerk in surprise. This led to
nation's history. This is something that I one of the women shouting, " Don't shoot! "
personally had to come to terms with as That situation is horrifying for many reasons.
Firstly, EMTs do not carry weapons, nor
should we. Many people do not know that
or cannot distinguish between our uniform
and that of police officers. We do not make
it easy when we are all wearing tactical
pants and SWAT boots. Secondly, even if
I had a weapon, there would have been no
reason for me to use it. A loud crash should
not be met with a louder and more lethal
bang. No one should ever have to feel that
it is on them to stop first responders from
escalating a situation or causing harm to the
people they are tasked with protecting. That
responsibility lies with the people training the
first responders. If you are entrusted with a
uniform and sent out into the world, we as
a society need to know that you are going to
do right by everyone. This woman was not
wrong to tell me not to shoot. As terrible
as it made me feel, her response is one of
adaptation. She has learned through personal
hardships and those depicted through the
media that I as a white person in a uniform
am dangerous to her Black family and friends.
She cannot be faulted for her plea; it is we
who have remained silent who are at fault
while institutionalized racism has claimed
the lives of so many.
I was born in Detroit and have always
loved the rich mix of cultures that make
the city so unique. I feel very fortunate
that I was able to serve the people of this
remarkable city. These are just two stories
out of the many I have of Black people I
was either trying to help or who I was just
existing near who thought that I was going
to hurt them because I was a white person
in uniform. I am extremely thankful to our
people in uniform when they do a good
job despite the bad pay, despite the long
hours, despite the toll inflicted on their
personal lives. I am also thankful to those
participating peacefully in the Black Lives
Matter protests, which are necessary to
awaken people from privileged identities to
the realities of institutionalized racism. You
do not have to choose between these two
groups-supporting the good components
of both movements can only make us closer
to fulfilling our country's promise of " life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness " for all.
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Central PA Medicine Fall 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Central PA Medicine Fall 2020
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