Tamika Cross, a Black female doctor in the United States is drawing public attention to an often overlooked problem within American society; the silent stereotype that suggests that it is not possible to be of African origin and be a successful professional. Earlier this month, Cross was a passenger on a Delta Airline flight from Detroit to Houston. It was supposed to be a routine flight, but all that changed when a passenger suffered a medical emergency mid-flight. In response, the flight crew called out to medical professionals on board to please identify themselves and help stabilize the passenger.
Hearing this and eager to save a life, Cross, who is an OB-GYN, raised her hand indicating that she is a medical expert, only to be repeatedly ignored by a flight steward who told her, “Oh, no sweetie, put your hand down. We are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don’t have time to talk to you.”
Cross later wrote about her disrespectful experience aboard the Delta flight in a lengthy Facebook post, writing, “I’m sure many of my fellow young, corporate America working women of color can all understand my frustration when I say I’m sick of being disrespected.”
In her Facebook post, Cross recounted the scene aboard the flight:
[I] was on Delta flight DL945 and someone 2 rows in front of me was screaming for help. Her husband was unresponsive. I naturally jumped into Doctor mode as no one else was getting up. Unbuckle my seat-belt and throw my tray table up and as I’m about to stand up, flight attendant says ‘everyone stay calm, it’s just a night terror, he is alright’.
I continue to watch the scene closely. A couple of minutes later he is unresponsive again and the flight attendant yells ‘call overhead for a physician on board’. I raised my hand to grab her attention. She said to me “oh no sweetie put your hand down, we are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don’t have time to talk to you.” I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks.
Then overhead they paged ‘any physician on board please press your button’. I stare at her as I go to press my button. She said ‘oh wow you’re an actual physician?’ I replied ‘yes’. She said ‘let me see your credentials’.
What type of Doctor are you? Where do you work? Why were you in Detroit? (Please remember this man is still in need of help and she is blocking my row from even standing up while bombarding me with questions).
I respond ‘OB-GYN, work in Houston, in Detroit for a wedding, but believe it or not they DO HAVE doctors in Detroit. Now excuse me so I can help the man in need’. Another seasoned white male approaches the row and says he is a physician as well. She says to me ‘thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials’. (Mind you he hasn’t shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the description of a doctor) I stay seated. Mind blown. Blood boiling. (Man is responding and is seemingly better now Thank God).
Then (she had) the nerve to ask for my input on what to do next about 10 mins later. I tell her we need vitals and blood sugar. She comes back to report to me a BP of 80/50 (super low, to my non-medical peeps) and they can’t find a glucometer. We continue down that pathway of medical work up, but the point is she needed my help and I continued to help despite the choice words I had saved up for her. The patient and his wife weren’t the problem, they needed help and we were mid-flight.
She came and apologized to me several times and offering me skymiles. I kindly refused. This is going higher than her. I don’t want skymiles in exchange for blatant discrimination. Whether this was race, age, gender discrimination, it’s not right. She will not get away with this….and I will still get my skymiles….
The post has garnered nearly 150,000 likes, and ignited dialogue about the deeply ingrained stereotypes that educated Black professionals (especially women) have to deal with in the course of their jobs.
In a bid to avoid a potential media storm, Delta Airline issued a press release affirming its commitment to treating all customers with the utmost respect, irrespective of race or gender:
Delta continues to investigate a story surfaced by Dr. Tamika Cross in a recent post on Facebook. We are troubled by any accusations of discrimination and take them very seriously. The experience Dr. Cross has described is not reflective of Delta’s culture or of the values our employees live out every day. We are in the process of conducting a full investigation.
We’ve reached out to Dr. Cross to speak with her directly, talked with our crew members and we’re reaching out to customers who were on board to gather as much information as we can. While there is much we can’t share because our investigation involves confidential personnel matters, we do want to share what we can. Three medical professionals identified themselves on the flight in question. Only one was able to produce documentation of medical training and that is the doctor who was asked to assist the customer on-board.
In addition, paramedics met the flight to assist the customer further. Flight attendants are trained to collect information from medical volunteers offering to assist with an on-board medical emergency. When an individual’s medical identification isn’t available, they’re instructed to ask questions such as where medical training was received or whether an individual has a business card or other documentation and ultimately to use their best judgment.
Cross’ Facebook post continues to serve as an outlet for Black female professionals to share their personal experiences and talk about the subtle and overt discrimination they face in their daily lives, with the hashtags #WhatADoctorLooksLike and #BeingADoctorWhileBlack trending on various social media platforms.