Stepping away for a moment from orderly thoughts on health, education, life and faith. I need to talk for a few minutes without carefully choosing my words- because this is one case where caution and logic may completely obscure what I have to say.
In January of 2009, I began an MPH program with eight women who were strangers to me. Just over a week ago, we turned in comprehensive exams, and in a matter of days we're going to arrive at a new place in life- one in which we don't run into each other in hallways in between classes, without group homework and exam sessions,and no place for panicked phone calls because some professor's directions weren't clear. I'm shocked at how differently I feel now, compared to finishing my B.S. So many of my emmotions are a blur of confusion, fear, loss- as compared to the sense of freedom and relief I felt at the end of my time at my undergrad institution. Those eight women are the reason for my current vague emmotional disarray.
It's been a year and a half- we've gotten sick, family members have died, we've stayed up way too late, killed a forest of trees writing papers together, and baked entirely too many cookies for class. There's a realness as we struggle with our broken and blended families, learn what we care most about, and try to figure out what "making a difference" really means. I've learned so much from these women-about how to dress like an adult, how to talk to people, how to organize and present ideas, and just how to be a decent human being. Of course it hurts to realize that there will be days...weeks...months...perhaps even years when I do not see a single one of them. What hurts more is the realization that as we leave this place of togetherness, the odds are that I will have a better life, just because of the color of my skin.
Six of this cohort are African-American, three Caucasian, and one Latina. Just to start the list- African-American women are less likely to be employed, more likely to be single parents, more likely to recieve HIV from their partners, have much less wealth on average than the average Caucasian female. It's been documented that African-American women have greater rates of low birthweight and preterm births than White women with the same education and socioeconomic status- likely because of the stress caused by systemic racism.
When I walk into a store or an office, odds are the person in charge looks like me. When I take a class, chances are the teacher is someone I look like. If I turn on a tv, I can flip through channel after channel packed full of shows showing only (or primarily) people of my race. I don't make people uneasy walking down a sidewalk and people don't mumble nasty comments when I move into their neighborhood.
Nothing about this is okay. This is nowhere near a complete list.
One of the things I am grateful for about our president is that on the inside, he is someone who looks like me (the Third culture kid, the outsider who's had to make sense of an entirely different universe than your classmates) and on the outside- someone who looks like my friends. And he and his family prove to this country that we have a place in it. Many good things have happened since his election, and I hope that as we watch our president strive to lead well, as we watch his wife raising awareness of childhood obesity...perhaps some in our country can learn to be less afraid of those who look different than they do. I am hopeful that perhaps, more things in this country can begin to change. That we will begin to realize the gifts and potential of individuals of different races and ethnicities, and work to enable them to use those gifts. So that my grandchildren and my friends' grandchildren can expect the same sorts of difficulties in life.