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Close up of stethoscope on laptop

Thursday, Global Grind posted the story of a Black doctor who was disrespected by a flight attendant after offering to help a fellow passenger in distress. A reader commented on our story to share a similar experience her husband faced in Alabama years ago. Global Grind asked Dr. Nicholson to share his story and invites others speak out about #subtleracism in America, in hopes that we can spark the conversations needed to fix this issue for the millions #livingwithracism everyday. 

As a doctor, I’ve always wondered, “If you see an accident on the side of the road, should you pull over to help?” About seven years ago, a state trooper in Selma, Alabama answered that question for me.

I was a medical resident at the time, it was about 2010. I got off around 7 AM after a night on-call. I was tired, driving mom’s soccer van on the highway when I saw a vehicle off to the right of the road. It was down in a ditch behind some buses and trees.
There was a tow truck and state trooper vehicle there. I could tell it was a fresh accident because they were still trying to open the door to the truck and get the person out to see what had happened. So I drove up a little ways and pulled over.
I was walking back towards the scene of the accident with my scrubs on when the trooper just abandoned the guy in the car and came running up the hill with his gun drawn saying, “Get back! Get back!”
I threw my hands up in the air like, “Wait, I’m a doctor. I’m trying to see if anyone needed help.” So I walked back to the van. He realized he was wrong and tried to get me to come back, but, at that point, I didn’t didn’t feel comfortable after having a gun pointed at me. I’m not sure what he thought I was coming to do in scrubs that made him think I was a threat to his life. But he showed me he was a threat to mine.
I haven’t stopped to help at the scene of an accident since.
Before that time in Selma, if we had seen somebody on the side of the road, it’s the humane thing to do to at least see if you can provide assistance. Because I’ve been on the side of the road before and people stopped for me. But that incident showed me Black people aren’t afforded the same humanity as other Americans.
Yesterday, my wife told me about the Black female doctor who was disrespected on an airline while trying to help a fellow passenger. The flight attendants were condescending and asked her to provide her credentials until a White male volunteered. The Black woman was told her services weren’t needed. They eventually apologized and offered her free flight miles. Her story reminded me and my wife of the episode in Selma.

Every Black American has a story just like this. But we have to change how we talk about these issues if we want to fix them. It’s a mistake to continue to say that if he would have shot me that my civil rights were violated. I say no, my human rights were violated. An apology or free flight don’t fix it.
These things that are being done are inhumane. 
It does not matter if someone is being civil. It’s about if someone is treating you like a human. This country has a long history of treating us as less than human.
When I was 16, me and my friends — all of us Black — were picked up for a purse snatching. One of us was put in the county jail, and the other three in juvenile detention. When the police picked us up, they just put us in the back of the paddy wagon, cuffed us and drove us back to the lady whose purse was snatched. They said, “Do these look like the guys who did it?” She said, “Yes.” They closed the door and off to juvenile detention we went.

We were there for three days until the guy who actually did it came forward. Once people in the community found out why we were arrested, he found out and turned himself in.

I saw the same inhumane treatment in 2005. When they evacuated us from Hurricane Katrina off the rooftop of Tulane Hospital, I saw how the people who were down in the water were treated by the National Guard. They wouldn’t allow them to come up onto dry land where they knew there was help.
When people say “All Lives Matter,” it takes away from these experiences. 
All lives aren’t being devalued like ours. It’s different words, and I think people know that, but they want to minimize it to make themselves more comfortable about what the country’s going through. So they say, “all lives.”
Black people agree that all lives matter, you won’t find any Black people saying “only Black lives matter.” Black people are too humane for that. They will say, “Yes all lives do matter, but for now Black Lives Matter because they are being taken unjustly.” And those who call theirselves our friends should keep quiet or say, “Yes, we agree. We can deal with other stuff down the road, but for now, that’s the people who are being shot down.”
But it makes people too uncomfortable. You can feel the tension on social media and at work. People want to ask questions, but they’re hesitant. Is it just because it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have? Well, however long it takes, it still needs to be had.
We’ve been saying this for many years. 
Now that it’s being caught on video, people kind of believe us. I guess before, they thought we were making it up. But I just want to add my story to say: Yes it’s real. And it happens to most of us. And it can’t be solved without talking about it.

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