July 20, 2008

Getting Checked

It is always unsettling to be brought face-to-face with your own prejudices, particularly when they are deep-seated and unexpected.

I went to the eye doctor and dentist this past week for my annual visits. But I must confess that before I went I had to wrestle with whether it made sense to wait until my break in August for the appointments or to have them now. Because of my peripatetic ways, I have no family doctors to return to who’ve been looking after me forever so it would be a new person seeing me here or there. And it made sense to have the appointments now and not during valuable and limited vacation time. But I still paused longer than usual before heading into their respective offices on consecutive mornings.

I think the reason I considered waiting is that on some level I thought if I waited I would be seen by an American- or Canadian-trained doctor, surely better than whatever an African-trained doctor could do for me. It’s hard to avoid the thought that on some level - not a conscious one - I also wanted to be seen by a white doctor, not a black one. To be clear, I never actively thought, “well, I’m not going to a black doctor” but I did notice a more-than-normal resistance to the idea of getting my teeth cleaned or my eyes checked.

I overcame this hurdle and logic overcame my subconscious. Having my appointments here made so much more sense on so many levels - in addition to the ones I’ve already noted, it was cheaper here; I’ve encountered African-trained doctors here and they are all excellent; and I went to the places Jenny goes to and she looks fine.

Even so, I still had a bit of hesitation as I waited in the dentist’s office to get my teeth cleaned. (Plus, the dentist was a young woman and the age and gender overlays in a profession in which I have only ever known old men complicated matters further.) When I walked into the room I found myself almost consciously saying to myself, “she’s perfectly well-trained and will do a fine job.” As it turned out, she did an excellent job, was notably friendly, even though she was speaking in a second language to me, and complimented me about my teeth, which I appreciate. I left feeling the same way I always do when I leave the dentist - chastised about not flossing enough and relieved I don’t have to put up with the experience for another year.

Have you ever read the book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell? Sometimes you don’t even know you’re thinking what you’re thinking. It’s disconcerting. I’m glad I had in this situation the distance from myself to realize my subconscious was being stupid.

There’s another post about being a white person in an overwhelmingly black community but that’ll have to wait.

P.S. I wrote this piece about a week ago and have hemmed and hawed since then about whether or not to post it. I hope you won’t judge me for it.


Anonymous said...

Jesse, EVERYBODY has prejudices, the only difference is that most people refuse to recognize them and will adamantly deny having any! So no judgments, hopefully your post will encourage others to reflect on their own thoughts and actions. A great book about this is Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I highly recommend it. Erika

Elizabeth said...

Interesting observation. If it's any comfort, I'm scared of Russian doctors too. But it's not so much that I doubt their skill (one of my good friends treated me) as that I fear the difference in their approach. It's a little scary when you're not sure what to expect.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jesse! It's good to be reading about your observations on life over there. Cool that you're making a jaunt back to the good ole USA soon. If you have any time when you're stateside, I'd love to talk to you about your experience, as I'm doing some research for setting up an international service program for Five Talents, where I'm working now (www.fivetalents.org). Yay Episcopalians/Anglicans in mission! ;)
-Hannah Coyne

melanie. said...

i think that a big part of going on a mission is learning about your beliefs - fair or unfair - and working through to reconcile them to god's will.
i've been checking your blog now and then and am so proud to see young episcopalians in the mission field. keep up the good work~