"I wish more of us would decide to stand as you did."
"You're a real civil rights leader. The spirit of our ancestors goes with you Misee. We need more of you out there."
"You're a true American and I applaud your spirit."
"I am white and see white privilege all the time and I am frankly embarrassed by it."
Those were just some of the supportive messages I received upon my September 4, 2014 resignation from my former dental practice as a result of racial discrimination, and my heart was warmed by it. In the wake of the chaos I have experienced over the past couple of weeks, those supportive emails and social media posts kept me buoyed. That, and the fact that dentists from across the country have been offering me jobs, with emails like "We don't care what you write on your social media pages. We want you to come work with us."
Bolstered by the support of several journalists I have recently spoken to, and by social media support, I am writing to the public to tell my story about what took place a few weeks back at the office where I practiced pediatric dentistry. I am part of Black America; I was born into it by virtue of the color of my skin. No matter where I am in my life, that part of me will always be my first identifier. I am also a dentist. My former employer gave me the unfortunate ultimatum of having to choose to be one or the other. That choice was presented to me after the partners in my former dental practice spied on my Facebook page, which featured several posts expressing my support of Michael Brown and the issues surrounding Ferguson, Missouri.
On September 4, I was called into an unannounced meeting at the pediatric dental practice where I worked, and where I was being considered for a partnership. I was ambushed and presented with screenshots from my private Facebook page. Since I had blocked work colleagues from accessing my account, it was explained to me that a doctor who is a partner at the office, and who also led the meeting, had been having a friend spy on my Facebook page. Screenshots were taken of my posts and were sent to the doctor who led the meeting. I was informed that some of my recent posts regarding racial issues in America were "unprofessional." I asked the partners if they had any idea what was going on in Black America and none of them seemed to even know the name Michael Brown. I was told flat out, that I would have to choose between my style of social media communication and my job at the dental practice.
My question then was, "Why can't I be both a dentist and a concerned civil rights activist at the same time?" At work, I always kept a professional demeanor, but with the state of the country and with cases of fatal acts of racism going on in places such as Ferguson, I have very often taken to Facebook with my concerns. Social media had been a place where I felt I could freely express who I am and how I feel about timely pressing issues that matter to me. What's more, my Facebook page was set to private status, and my former employer had to use underhanded methods to access my posts.
Why is it that African-Americans today, with a black president and many leading figures in the media being black, continue to feel genuinely voiceless? Do we need a new Civil Rights Leader, a new movement?
Martin Luther King once said, "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now." Is all of Black America in the same boat in 2014? It doesn't seem so, and that concerns me deeply. We are divided into classes. Those on the streets of Ferguson don't feel that the likes of President Barack Obama or Jesse Jackson have their back; they don't feel those public leaders can even speak for them.
As a dentist, an entrepreneur and a media personality, in the eyes of many people I don't appear to be in the same boat as those on the streets of Ferguson either. People assume that I don't deal with the same discrimination that they do. But to me, we are all the same. That is why, while employed at my former practice, I worked so tirelessly to cater to black patients who couldn't afford dental care for their kids, and it's precisely why I feel it is so very urgent to speak up. Racism and discrimination don't distinguish between income and social status. For example, a black television producer got arrested while checking on his car, at the Emmy Awards, a few weeks back.
After turning to social media and to many news outlets to voice my story, I discovered that I am not alone. I have been getting feedback from many people and hearing of so many stories that break my heart. These stories speak of anger and pain with an all too familiar theme. One person wrote, "I have been suffering from discrimination at my workplace but I don't have the financial freedom to leave." Another person wrote, "As a black doctor, I empathize with you. I have been through the exact same abuse."
I refuse to agree to the rules of a society that believes, as I expressed in a statement after my resignation:
That a black person who has made it to success in a white-dominated field like dentistry is expected to show gratitude and humility, and to water down their beliefs and viewpoints to avoid rocking the boat.
The boat's been officially rocked, and I have too much to say to even consider stopping now.