Friday, July 22nd, 2016

Why Black Lives Matter to a White Pediatrician

Sarah Mongiello Bernstein, M.D.

My heart hurts. Sometimes I find it hard to reconcile all the beauty in this world with all the hatred I see in people. Two years ago, I went to India to perform a research project with Operation Smile in Guwahati, a city only a few hours away from Dhaka where the brutal café massacre occurred. My travel companion and I left India early because we didn’t feel safe. Members of the military aimed guns at us and laughed at our startled faces. A man crossed the street to spit at our feet in disgust.  It was the first time I had ever been the subject of overt racism and it left a lasting impression. I felt like a target and I wondered if this is how black Americans feel everyday in their homes.

As a white female, I sometimes find it hard to find my voice when others are struck down. I feel awkward publicly supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement not knowing what my place is or where the boundaries lie. I stay silent because I don’t want to offend anyone, but the reality is, my silence is offensive.

Recently, two black men were killed by police in front of their families. Two fellow Emory students have been brutally killed and over 200 people in Baghdad were murdered by ISIS in a single attack. When Starbucks chose to use red cups without snowflakes this past year people lost their minds. When a gorilla was shot in a zoo people were literally sobbing about it. Where is the outrage for Baghdad? Where are the tears for Baton Rouge?

How can we let our neighbors and friends live in constant fear? Run and you will get shot. Comply and you will get shot.  I cannot pretend to understand what it must feel like to tell your children to be afraid of the police.  To grow up in a country where being black or Muslim or different leaves you open to harassment and acts of cruelty.

Clearly, I grew up privileged and isolated which is why it’s taken me so long to realize that the America I always believed valued diversity and was a “melting pot” for art and culture is really a smoldering cauldron for many of our most vulnerable children.

As a pediatrician in Chicago, I find it difficult to answer questions about gangs and gun violence. I provide AAP approved answers to gun safety and alerting families and police but I cant help but recognize how isolated I am from the lives they must lead.

I feel the need to write this because I have a voice and a platform when so many others are silenced. Maybe my intentions will be misconstrued or misunderstood. Maybe my words wont make a difference but I have to at least try. How else can I look my patients in the eyes?

Lately, I am constantly reminded of the following:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Violence against one of our children is violence against all of our children.  We must take a stand together. We are not democrats, republicans, white or black. We are Americans and we are human beings.

To the black families out there: I freely admit that I am ignorant to your situation. I do not understand what it is like to be you and it is not your duty to make me. But know that I am a friend. That I will fight for you. That I will lend a voice or a hand or a shoulder to cry on.  Please know that you are not alone. I mourn your children’s death and I will continue to fight for their rights in the best way I know how.


About Sarah M. Bernstein, MD, MHA

new Sarah headshotSarah is a pediatrics resident at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a graduate of Emory University School of Medicine. She graduated with a B.S. and Masters in Health Administration (M.H.A.) from Cornell University and has worked as a healthcare consultant in the population management division. She is passionate about global health and enjoys working with high acuity patients in resource-limited settings. At Cornell, Sarah served on the Public Service Center’s Leadership Council and as founder and president of Cover Africa, an organization dedicated to eradicating malaria in Humjibre, Ghana. Today, Cover Africa has over 800 members and has donated over $100,000 to the fight against malaria.

Throughout medical school, she has sustained this passion for global health – serving as Vice-President of Public Relations for Emory Health Against Human Trafficking (EHAHT) and a researcher with Operation Smile in Guwahati, India where she helped to develop and validate a new tool that would allow physicians to objectively assess the severity of pre-surgical cleft lips and palates internationally. Long term, Sarah hopes to combine her passion for global health with the skills she has developed as a patient, consultant and clinician to improve patient access and eliminate costly inefficiencies in healthcare systems worldwide. In her free time, she enjoys acting, drawing and exploring new cities and cultures with her husband, Gehrig.

2 thoughts on “Why Black Lives Matter to a White Pediatrician

  1. Thanks Sarah I am humbled by your boldness. I understand how hard it is to find a voice and to confront the reality of racism. I am a black physician and have kept my moutb shut about the issue of black lives matter because of not knowing how my collegues would react to my opinions. Will i be ostracized in a largely white majority practice?? I don’t know and have been afraid to find out. You opened my eyes and im embarrassed for being quiet.

  2. Dr.Bernstein, it is a full saga on humanity , love and care you pictured here. Certainly humans are at loss and I also can’t see light at the end of tunnel, however we, those who consider us human beings first ( and foremost) , can’t keep silent and indifferent as you explained that when “they come to get us, nobody will be there to speak and protect us”.. As a human being born and grew up in India, I feel sorry what happened to you there and I want to tell you that the large majority of Indian people are entirely different from those people who treat you badly.
    I wish you all success in your profession and passion, also please continoue to be with less privileged, oppressed and poor.Best wishes.

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