Two Sides to Every Coin

Editor’s Note: For more about the program described in this blog post, check out this Academic Medicine article in the March 2017 issue and this blog post by another program participant.

By: Anthony O. Cruz, MD

Dr. Cruz is a physician for the Henry Ford Health System. He is passionate about cultural diversity and equity in health care. He is a graduate of Henry Ford’s first Health Equity Scholars Program and applies these skills to his work in the Department of Emergency Medicine.

The Privilege and Responsibility Curricular Exercise gave me a chance to take a good hard look at two very different sides of myself. I come from a mixed background–my mother is Caucasian and my father is Puerto Rican. I grew up in a blue-collar family that struggled to make ends meet, whereas now I have a stable career with financial security. I found these two contrasting identities in stark juxtaposition during this exercise because, depending on my point of view, I can relate to both sides of the dichotomies presented. Someone like me is privileged in a sense, yet I am also part of a minority group. So after reading the statements of privilege I had to first ask myself, “Does this apply to me?” and then ask, “Am I always aware of it when it happens to others?” For example, I’m married to a white woman. I can take her with me anywhere I go and not think twice. She’s an acceptable partner of the opposite sex in the eyes of the world. On the other hand, I can think of a few colleagues with same sex partners. Are they “thinking twice”? Perhaps they avoid going places together because they feel scrutinized. Now let’s take it a step further and think about race. Do others ever look at my wife and think, “Why would she marry somebody who is mixed when she herself is white?”

This activity also pushed me to think harder about how discrimination is woven into our world. It exists on a great many levels even when people remain oblivious to it. It’s an eye-opener, if not a reminder, allowing people to reflect with true empathy on what others who are not exactly like them experience in life. Each and every person is unique and complex. Due to both personal and societal factors, we must open our eyes and become aware of the fact that we are at once bound together and placed at odds with each other through our similarities and differences. Whether it comes to food, language, age, race, religion, sex, color, appearance, money, education, position, gender, sexual orientation, or any of the things that make us who we are, gaining that awareness empowers us. Only then are we able to acknowledge and hopefully dismantle the oppressive aspects of our society that create disparities and that very broadly reinforce the inequities we encounter. Going forward, I’ve learned that it’s not enough to just be a good person and cast no stones. These forces of inequity are real, and we all bear the consequences of allowing them to go unchecked. I am even more dedicated to teaching my children to stand up for diversity and inclusion. I am even more driven to set an example in the ER by actively making all of our patients feel like they belong. The message for my family, friends, students, and co-workers is that it is not OK to just be neutral. In the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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