A white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA that turned violent on Saturday resulted in the death of one counter-protester and two cops. The tragedy sparked a national conversation about the prevalence of white nationalism in the U.S., including an Asian-American doctor sharing on Twitter her experience dealing with racism in the ER.
Esther Choo, an emergency physician and associate professor at Oregon Health & Science University, told Refinery29 the events in Charlottesville reminded her that tragedies get the nation's attention, but are quickly forgotten by most. "If this is not part of your world experience, it kind of sinks down and you can forget about it," she said. But for people of color, Choo explained, "You don’t think of [racism] as a few moments — it's your world. It’s in the floors; it's in the ceilings."
Choo began her viral Twitter thread by explaining that a few times a year, a patient in the ER refuses treatment from her because of her race. She wrote that after years of experience, she no longer gets angry or upset, telling racist patients: "I understand your viewpoint. I trained at elite institutions & have been practicing for 15 years. You are welcome to refuse care under my hands, but I feel confident that I am the most qualified to care for you. Especially since the alternative is an intern."
They usually choose to be seen by an intern (as long as the intern isn't also a person of color) or simply refuse care, according to Choo.
"Breathtaking, isn't it?" Choo tweeted. "To be so wedded to your theory of white superiority, that you will bet your life on it, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary?"
Choo said some change their tune and apologize because, as Choo said, "It's a hell of a hard thing to maintain that level of hate face-to-face."
The Oregon doctor hopes sharing her experience online will encourage other people to do the same, and others in the medical field have already responded to her tweets talking about the racism they've faced at work.
"A lot of people who responded to these post have said they experience these things all the time, or haven't talked about it before, or didn't realize it happens to anyone else," she told Refinery29. "This was really the first time I've ever talked about it."
TJ Franky, a Black pharmacist in rural Missouri, was one of the people who responded to Choo on Twitter, saying he's had patients prefer to speak with a pharmacy technician over him.
"Unfortunately for them, techs cannot counsel," he wrote, adding, "Most have been forced to come back to me, as their last hope, and the only pharmacist on duty. I have always treated them with abundant love, respect, empathy, above the line care and professional in the face of their racist remarks."
Choo wrote back to Franky, saying, "If it is to change, it will be because we show up every day & are not discouraged."
This story has been updated after receiving comment from Esther Choo.