As many of you know, I’m white and my husband is black. Before I met Elliot, I didn’t understand much about the experience of those who are black in our country. Elliot (and his family) have taught me so much about race and the experience of those who are not white in our country. After my MBC diagnosis, I’ve also heard and seen the experiences of black people within our medical system up close and personal. Listening to the experiences of those I care about as they navigate a system that makes me as a white lawyer who doesn’t mind doing battle for what I need feel helpless and powerless breaks my heart day in and day out.
I’ve often struggled with how best to help. As a lawyer, wearing the hat of an advocate comes easiest to me and offering to attend appointments as a mentor, friend, advisor, etc., has been my pleasure. I’ve seen over and over that my friends are treated differently when the eyes of a white patient is on the medical professional. I’ve also had the opportunity to participate with the Tigerlily Foundation in a variety of ways as they have come up with projects aimed to educate and address disparities.
Today, I want to share three ways that I’ve participated, which I’m hoping will help each of you think about how you too can be an ally in the struggle to end disparities in care for black people with breast cancer.
The first way is to take the Inclusion Pledge. You can find that here. The description on the website is stellar, but let me add my own interpretation — taking this pledge means that you will look around you wherever you are and notice if there are no black or brown faces around you. When you are in an advocacy or public role, you will turn down opportunities if black or brown people aren’t included on the stage with you. We white people need to use our white privilege to take note and notice when our black and brown colleagues are excluded, when our black and brown colleagues are sidelined, when our black and brown colleagues need to be included. We say “Nothing for Us, Without Us,” in the MBC community as a way of addressing when medical discussions happen without the patients, that applies here too. It is up to us to ensure inclusion and diversity wherever possible.
Secondly, is to talk openly about what we see and how we deal with it. I gave an interview about my experiences and how I’ve dealt with that to My Life Matters, a Virtual Magazine, entitled “Interview about Allyship with Black Metastatic Patients.” As a white woman, I do see it as my responsibility to use my white privilege to bring up these issues, addressing them as I see them. Each of us will do this differently. Honestly, I’m more apt to scare the medical professionals with the possibility of legal ramifications because that’s my lane. You may do that in a different way, the point is to notice it and talk about it. I’ve learned as a white woman that race is a constant thought and a constant issue in the black and brown community. When we white people ask questions and talk about what we see, we aren’t bringing up something that our black and brown colleagues aren’t already seeing or thinking about.
Third and finally, volunteer to help when asked. Tigerlily and GRASP have partnered to facilitate #PullUpaSeat, which is a wonderful virtual event that brings black and brown patient advocates together with medical professionals to have an open and honest conversation about disparities and how to address them. Those of us who are white allies serve as witnesses, notetakers and backup. I’ve learned so much more from my black and brown colleagues as they share their pain and trauma with white and black and brown medical professionals, some of whom walk into these sessions not buying into the issues of racial disparity or systemic racism in our country. Facilitating these important conversations is so important and I’m honored to help any way that I can. Here‘s an example of these #PullUpaSeat events.
Maybe none of these examples resonates with you. That’s fine. My wholepoint in sharing my experiences and these examples is to get you thinking. How can YOU help? What is within YOUR wheelhouse? Everyone is different and everyone brings something different to the table, the point is to come to the table, show up, listen, learn, and then take action!