By Trevor E Cline, MS2
My friend gave me this space to write, and write I shall.
I thought long and hard about what I would write that would forever remain on the internet. Should I fill it with memes and jokes? Somber remembrances of difficulties overcome in medical school? As I sorted through my thoughts, yesterday night, an unspeakable tragedy unfolded in our country. It struck me right in the heart as a white medical professional. These are the words in response to the act of unspeakable terror Dylann Roof perpetrated against our society.
This post began when I looked into the eyes of cold blooded hatred:
This is the face of our racist Caucasian history, a moniker of centuries marked by people that share my skin color perpetrating some the greatest evils humankind has ever seen in my own America.
In that face, my first thoughts were I wish I could disassociate myself. I wish I could write Twitter hash tags like #notallwhitepeople. I wish I could say that I am a social justice advocate, colorblind. I wish I could look at my African American friends and ask for their blessing to not group me with this heinous human.
But in reality, in that face and eyes I see myself. My light colored irises. My European heritage. My skin color. The privilege that I, like Dylann, have exercised without even tacit mention. The history our skin color carries. In short, in that murderous countenance I see myself.
What can I do with the countenance of a terrorist? What can I do with the skin color of blood, of cultural death, of imperialism?
I will tell you my friends. First, I will own Dylann Roof. He is as much a member of the white privileged elite that have ruled this country since it’s founding as I am. Let’s acknowledge that Dylann Roof is the most recent entry in an encyclopedia of horrors inflicted upon African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others written by white men. He is a white man, like I am a white man, born of the oppressor and heir to the invisible crown of white privilege. He is our ethnic shame, white heritage’s most recent grotesque addition to an already distorted tapestry of hate, destruction, oppression, subversion, and oblivious kingship of American society. As a white physician, I will own the pain he has caused. As a professional treating people, I will own the face that looks like mine.
What can I do once I own Dylann Roof? I, and I argue we, must do what many have not been able to do – abdicate our privilege. Whites like me – abdicate your privilege and throw your body upon the gears of society to undo it.
How can we possibly do that? I think we must be unafraid to tell the world of the horrors of white rule and privilege in the United States. We must let our black brothers and sisters heal in a way that they, not us, see fit. We must let our minority brothers and sisters speak for their own communities, their own histories, and lead the charge to re-write our nation’s racial narratives and scripts. We must be servant to their leadership as allies, not as usurpers dominating the airwaves and television screens of our country proclaiming to be the voices of healing when we are still the root of the problem.
As a white physician, I think I, and I will argue we, must accept our minority patients’ well-warranted scrutiny and earn their trust with excellence. As white physicians we must see this act as societal violence at the highest level, strengthening the cancer of racism and ignorance that continues to destroy our republic. We must make guns harder to access for the clearly deranged. We must create a functional mental health system to prevent these violent outbursts of deeply harbored sociopathy from claiming more lives. We must make health care, already a human right, an actionable human right, available to all at a reasonable price and the best quality. We must stand with our minority brothers and sisters and cash in the political capitol our MD affords us to right these wrongs.
These things we must do. For these lofty and many actions are the only way I can look into Dylann Roof’s face, my face, and have the audacity to call myself an American. It is the only way I can make myself a citizen of the same country as Martin Luther King Jr., Atul Gawande, Cesar Chavez, and the 9 in Charleston that senselessly lost their lives. I am Dylann Roof, white like him and born of similar ancestors. I openly own him and disavow him.
And now I invite you, my friends, to join me in finding a way to make Dylann Roof history and not future possibility. We whites all must if we wish to truly be a place that judges humans on the content of their character and not the color of their skin.
Trevor is a medical student at UC Davis, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org