#Stopthebans and #Starttheconversation
Regnat Populus, which means the people rule is the Arkansas state motto. Well if the people really do rule then the women of Arkansas much like the women of 8 other states across America need to take a cue from their good Christian churches and tap their neighbor on the shoulder and say," Neighbor WTF are you thinking!?"
Arkansas like many others made the decision to pass HB314 which would make abortions illegal after 18 weeks with exceptions. While not the most stringent of laws passed in 2019 it follows a trend of policing the bodies of women in this country which is both oppressive and frightening. No matter which side of the line you're on the idea of the government dictating not just individual rights but essentially the futures of millions of women should be cause for concern and reason to stand together.
As I looked out the window of the plane headed for my next assignment there I had both anxiety and anger at the idea of facing the women and patients of labor and delivery armed with the knowledge that every woman there had just had their rights limited and her bodily autonomy taken. The laws which could result in a total ban should Roe V. Wade ever get repealed are just another step in the direction of government control over the bodies of citizens of this country.
Hearing the pilot announced that we would be landing shortly another rude reality crossed my mind. I was about to head to work in a state I grew up hearing nothing but horror stories about in regards to race. I was taught that places like Arkansas " weren't for me" meaning that my brown skin was more than just a birthright. In this place it would also make me an unwelcome target. Having been "trained" to be in hostile environments since childhood I repeated to myself, "don't stay out late, don't walk outside alone beyond the hotel grounds , don't wander, keep your face and body language neutral, keep the conversation neutral, make your money and make it home."
Settling in to my hotel everything seemed pretty natural. The people were friendly, the room was nice and besides the remnants of flooding from the storm it seemed like any other assignment. I started to think maybe my anxiety was misplaced , and then I went to dinner...
The storm caused many of the roads to be flooded which good ole' Google didn't know about so as the sun went down we found ourselves (my mom, friend, and I), lost on a back road a mere 7 minutes from our hotel. That is when we pulled up to the largest Confederate flag I've ever seen in person. Being from Cleveland Confederate flags weren't something that I encountered on a daily basis so seeing it front and center was both troubling and scary. It pushed me to a level of panic that I was not expecting. It was surrounded by barbed wire and a surveillance sign right in someone's front yard. I realized maybe my dismissal of my anxieties may have been premature.
I got my schedule and at first I was confused about not being scheduled in labor and delivery like normal, but quickly the stories of patients husbands with swastikas tattooed on their bodies shouting that "you people" shouldn't touch or care for my wife and baby, and managers (of color ) having to explain that the hospital had a zero tolerance policy for talk like that left me sure God knew what he was doing not placing me there. Little did I know he had a bigger plan for my patience on this assignment. I spent time in operating rooms hearing doctors sing NWA under their breath (every word) , listening to staff saying there are worse things than picking cotton (like picking pecans) SMDH, how cotton was graded and weighed, and stood uncomfortably as my very white, male coworkers discussed doing tactical training on the weekends as to be able to go from holstered guns to crouching and target shot in 2 seconds flat. Now I won't lie, that last conversation had me wondering, should I be doing tactical training? What are they training for? Why does the idea of these particular people being this well armed and trained scare me so much? With each conversation I grew more and more uncomfortable despite everyone on this staff being extremely welcoming. I would regularly leave the unit for a moment of air because not reacting was taking more out of me than any actual fight I had ever been in.
My 2nd week a black, female nurse came on board and I was so relieved. She was kind, out spoken, and in management at her home hospital so she had a take no shit attitude that I could appreciate. It was her comment one day that reminded me of my initial anxiety when she said, " I support all women's right to choose", when the topic of D&C procedures being performed at our location versus the neighboring hospital where they "didn't allow that kind of thing" came up. Coincidentally it was that same day that I found myself in a gas station (after side eyeing yet another Confederate flag ) taking sides with a female sex worker being hounded by 2 guys looking for a "freebie". Driving away all I could think was I hope she stays safe out here,( now that her rights are limited) , and Lawd get me out of here in 1 piece!
This whole experience left me feeling like my black skin was a bull's eye for micro aggressions and hate and my gender meant people could decide my fate for me. The comments of men I worked with that it wasn't their fight rang in my head increasing feelings of loneliness and despair. Then something unexpected happened, I made a friend! She was one of my nurses and her blunt attitude and constant silliness made being in a hostile environment seem bearable. When one of my very white, old, male doctors with a God complex yelled at me she quickly followed with ," He is an asshole who's mad because no one likes him even his wife!" Lol. Her lighthearted nature rubbed off on me and I found my own outlook improving.
With that change in my attitude came a few more surprises. My female manager standing up for me when I was sure she would back down, my female director removing another employee who was disrespectful to me (another white woman who tried to demean me and I had to check her) *cue white female entitlement* , and the remainder of my project becoming breeze.
We began conversations about life and family and it quickly became apparent how similar some of us were and that if we tried we could bridge the gap in the things that were different. By the end we were exchanging gifts and thank you cards and laughing while we shared plates of pizza and made jokes about how we would blame the pizza afterwards for feeling sick and get out of work early to enjoy the sunshine. It was between bites and side glances as the doctors asked as if we were enjoying getting a break that something in me sighed with relief and said this is how we change things. Sometimes we have to fight hard and then there are times where we have to extend a hand and start a dialog not only about easy topics but the ones that make us uncomfortable. We have to call out inequality, create safe spaces for us all through empathetic conversations and recognizing how our inherent biases can offend and demoralize, and demand changes to the things that affect this all. By the time I left the director felt empowered enough to address the bullying the male doctors subject the nurses to, male staff agreeing that the laws were both unfair and a precursor to more government control overall, and some learned (for the first time) that the words they grew up thinking were normal were actually not okay.
We all realized that we have to make the conscious decision to stand together even when an injustice doesn't directly affect us. And as women we have to work together to protect our every right no matter how hard. I learned from this trip that preconceived notions and fear only serve to build walls around us as people.
This was my least favorite job before I arrived and by the time I got off the plane home the memories of outdoor music on Friday nights, local pizza standing and sharing plates, and gifts of penis shaped squeeze toys from my urology nurses gave me a smile that out shined every swastika, dirty look, sexist comment, and fear. My choice to support #stopthebans by #startingtheconversation was the best choice I could have made and left me with lessons I will remember for the rest of my life.
Sidenote lol: Looking through my photos from this trip I saw the progression from sad and over worked to happy and seeking out beauty which I found in the beautiful street art around the city. Head to my Instagram with the link below to see some of the amazing art that turned my grey skies to beautiful shades of blue....