Dr Deborah Cohan is a self-described “dancing doctor” and mistress of “embodied medicine,” the aim of which is to “bring compassionate presence to healing encounters” via “a collective experience of dance.” Being, as she is, so in touch with the rhythms of her innards, the doctor’s statements of hard-won profundity are varied and numerous, including:
I am inviting myself to live at the speed of one second per second.
There’s something edible inside incredible.
A tree is never alone in the forest.
Imagine new-born babies teaching medical students how to dance and touch empathetically.
Given the above, these fruits of “shamanic healing,” readers may not be entirely surprised to hear that Dr Cohan is also entranced by the potential of woke theatre. And so we turn to the New England Journal of Medicine – specifically, an article titled Racist Like Me — A Call to Self-Reflection and Action for White Physicians – in which our dancing doctor tells us many things. We begin, as is the custom, with a lengthy, somewhat tedious, confession of pallor, and therefore inherent wrongness:
I am racist. I would love to believe otherwise and can find evidence that I am not — my career dedicated to caring for underserved women of colour, my support of colleagues and trainees who are people of colour, my score on the implicit-association test.
That would be this test. The one in which the random positioning of a chair can be construed as damning evidence of racial antipathy.
My mission as a white physician is to be humble and respectful toward my patients, not only as an act of compassion but as a revolutionary act against racism, elitism, and hierarchy.
A revolutionary act. How terribly brave and daring she must be.
And yet I am racist, shaped by the sometimes-subtle tendrils of white supremacy deeply embedded in our culture.
The standard incantation. But with bonus tendrils.
I mean this not as a sanctimonious admission of guilt, but as a call to self-reflection and action for us white physicians.
You see, denouncing white skin as proof of seething racial malice, a cornerstone of “white supremacy” and an ill-defined “structural violence that plagues our society,” isn’t at all sanctimonious.
My goal is to dismantle the insidious thoughts that reinforce a hierarchy based on race, education, and other markers of privilege that separate me from others… Until I bring to light and hold myself accountable for my own racist tendencies, I am contributing to racism in health care.
Bad whitey. Now list your sins.
The other day, I noticed myself sitting farther than usual from a black patient in her hospital bed.
Alas, the exact number of inches is not made clear.
I once mistook one black resident for another resident who is also black.
No laughing at the back.
This goes on at eye-watering length, with the inevitable nods to some assumed white “privilege” and “fragility,” and a claim, also aired as if self-evident, that, “Health care is not safe for people of colour as long as the overwhelming majority of U.S. physicians are white.” At which point, the words paranoid and invidious spring to mind. However, Dr Cohan is of course now enlightened and determined to transcend the rest of us:
I am now aware enough to know that I will need to pursue a lifelong, iterative process of exploration, education, and realignment… I can bring more empathy to my encounters with patients whose reality is different from my own.
A phrase positively creaking with inadvertent implications.
If we white physicians are to heal others and ultimately the health care system, we must first heal ourselves.
Readers will note how readily and often our practitioner of “embodied medicine” – and pretentious ethno-masochism - deploys the word we, thereby blurring the distinction between her own, somewhat odd preoccupations and those of the melanin-deficient more generally. “We can change,” says she. “In fact, we must change.” Because speaking for all white people involved in medicine, and by extension all white people, and casually and baselessly accusing them of racism, of being morally inferior, and indeed dangerous to non-white patients, is so very selfless. And somehow, conveniently, not at all racist.
And finally, we’re told that the aforementioned healing and realignment - or neurotic and convoluted self-preoccupation – should take the form of fretting about one’s “privilege,” deferring to the opinions of the Sacred Brown Ones, who must not be “burdened” with the “responsibility for educating those of us who are white,” and by “ensuring… the promotion of physicians of colour.” Not being white being some kind of credential, apparently, a sin-free state, and a basis for accelerated career advancement.
Dr Cohan is employed by the University of California, San Francisco.
Via Cathy Young.